Why would a big international law firm contribute to the upkeep of a small theatre? Because they recognise that places like the Warehouse are what makes Brussels such an attractive location for people from around the world - and also for those much closer. Antonia Mochan spoke to Bart Vanderstraete, Office Managing Partner at Squire Patton Boggs law firm about why his company is playing their part in keeping the Warehouse operational.
Lawyers are one of those professions that are renowned for working long hours. So it’s refreshing to see one with the motto “Work hard, play hard”. According to Bart, it’s a point of pride for the firm to make sure that the people that come to Brussels for the first half of the motto are able to make the most of the second half. “What we do is intense, it takes up a lot of time. But we recognise how important it is to have a life outside the office, and time to do other things. The Brussels theatre scene is an important part of that. It’s a way for them to engage with local communities, find that welcoming environment that is part of life in a new place.”
Although Squire Patton Boggs is an international firm, with people working there from all around the world, Bart himself is a Fleming. So I ask him how English-language theatre can be seen as a way to integrate into life in Belgium. He starts by pointing out that many of the people involved can hardly be counted as expats - although not native, they have lived here a long time and indeed are more enthusiastic about Brussels than some Belgians! “They have a pride in being here,” he says. “They are part of the fabric of the place, part of what makes it what it is.” Many of us that know and love Brussels will agree with him when he says “I love the different cultures that are here. Being this melting pot is what makes Brussels such a great place to live. As a city, it really punches above its weight. That’s important for us as a firm in attracting people to come and work here. All these cultures coming together is a big part of that - restaurants, shops and of course the cultural offering as well.”
Squire Patton Boggs has a direct connection with the local theatre scene via colleagues who are active in particular groups. What Bart really values, though, is the fact that all the groups are so open and welcoming. “When you go along to a show, there’s such a great mix of people”.
Shows need audiences and even if the firm doesn’t have lots of people on stage, they regularly come along to see the different theatrical offerings. But why go further and donate to the campaign? “We want this to continue,” Bart tells me. “The theatre groups are a great introduction to life in Brussels for our new arrivals. What you are doing is impressive and if we want it to continue, then we are happy to contribute.”