Oerol Festival has grown since 1982 to become the largest site-specific arts festival in Europe – and all this on a small Wadden Sea island in the north of the Netherlands.

Each year, the festival attracts around 50,000 visitors and provides space for both premieres by established groups as well as work by young makers. The diverse programme of approximately 25 site-specific performances, street theatre, music, visual arts, storytelling, talks, and deepening experiences, makes Oerol more than just a festival; it is a breeding ground for site-specific theatre, with the nature and culture of Terschelling as its main protagonist. Street theatre fills the villages with circus and spectacle, Expeditions allow you to discover the island through art installations, and festival hub de Deining is the beating heart of the festival on the North Sea beach.

The name ‘Oerol’ originates from an old Terschelling tradition, where in the spring, livestock grazed ‘oerol’ (meaning ‘everywhere’ in the Terschelling dialect) in the meadows outside the villages. Although the tradition disappeared after the Second World War, the name lives on in the festival.

Dive into our forty-year history

Krantenartikel over Terschellinger kroegbazen Joop Mulder en Piet huisman in hun jonge jaren voor cafe de Stoep
The festival was founded by Joop Mulder, then owner of café De Stoep in Midsland. Inspired by the Festival of Fools, an annual theatre festival that took place in Amsterdam between 1975 and 1984, Oerol began as a modest theatre and music event. With a lot of enthusiasm, perseverance, and a minimal budget of only 16,000 guilders (yikes!), it was an unexpected success.

Oerol is facing financial challenges. The organisation is on the verge of throwing in the towel. Joop wanted to announce this to the public on the last day of the festival, but he saw how happy everyone was and asked: ‘Should we stop or should we continue?’. The resounding cheers from the audience led to a continuation, albeit with some bumps along the way.

Once again, the festival was put to the test by financial troubles. Joop announced at the opening that negotiations with the Ministry of Culture and the provincial government of Friesland had come to nothing, and that this was indeed the last edition of Oerol. Disappointed visitors left the island. Fortunately, shortly thereafter a solution was found!

Een groep mensen loopt een oude boerenschuur in om een voorstelling te gaan bekijken op Oerol.
The 'shed theatre' is introduced at Oerol. These performances take place in sheds, where theatre makers create pieces in a short time using the resources available at that specific location. With this initiative, Joop aims to transform Oerol into a theatre workshop, an environment where artists have the space to experiment and develop.
Still van de compilatievideo van Oerol 1997, waarop mannen in pak met blauwe hoofden te zien zijn achter een winkelruit
A summary of the performances at Oerol 1997, in a co-production of Omrop Fryslân, VPRO, and Oerol.

Watch the video here.

Three times is… not the charm! On the final day of Oerol, Joop Mulder once again announced that the survival of the festival was threatened. Despite a record number of visitors (55,000) attending, the organisation was once again in sticky financial straits. The government funding of €180,000 was not sufficient to continue organising the festival in the following years. ‘We need at least €400,000, otherwise it won’t go ahead next year,’ Joop said on the last day of the 23rd Oerol edition. In 2005, the structural support for the festival was expanded, securing the 24th edition.

Oerol secures a stable position in the system and becomes part of the Dutch Basic Cultural Infrastructure (BIS) with modest national structural support.

Portret Joop Mulder, mister Oerol. Terschelling, mei 2017.
On January 10th, Joop Mulder, the founder of the festival, passed away at the age of 67.
‘Joop Mulder, Daddy Oerol, had the motto: understand where you are, with the wind in your ears and the salt on your tongue.’

The history and present of the festival are filled with challenges, but the Oerol DNA of our predecessors continues to permeate the organisation. This rich, forty-year history inspires us daily to use art as a catalyst for a better world. We look to the future with enthusiasm, passion, and a healthy anticipation. Always keeping in mind the words of our founder and inspiration, Joop Mulder:

‘If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.’

Meer about Oerol