November 27, 2023

Flying through Flanders

Kevin Dowsett, Artistic Director of Theatretrain, recounts his Antwerp escapade, from coffee calamities to exploring vibrant theatres and explores how Belgium see value in the arts.

Last week I was a guest of the City of Antwerp. I went by Eurostar, but things did not get off to a good start. I arrived early so bought a fancy roll and a take-away cup of coffee. I went through to check in and put everything in a tray for security. I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea, but I put the upright coffee with lid and the fancy roll in the fancy carrier they came in and put it on the tray. For once I didn’t get stopped but unfortunately, I found the cup of coffee on its side.

Could a simple cup of coffee cause so much mayhem? Somehow the cup was now empty, and the roll was a soggy mush. Not only that but the fancy bag had allowed the contents to drip through onto the tray and was lapping at the sides of my coat. I had to scoop up the lot, still dripping and find a bin – trailing my journey as I did so.

Once in Antwerp, apart from a 20-minute walk in the rain, I was relaxed. My hosts invited us all to a restaurant meal that started at 7 pm but didn’t end until after midnight. There were very long intervals between the food but when it came it was lovely. Fortunately for me, everyone spoke excellent English.

On Friday morning I was given a flying visit around the city to see the performing arts buildings – and there were many. This photo is of a lovely theatre used by youth theatres and local people. It backed onto a huge space that could make another studio theatre. Next door was an even bigger theatre that received productions and the massive building had yet another two studios for performance with 120 seats.

They were making a wonderful project in the foyer. Lots of organisations were coming from all over to stitch together a community curtain for hanging in front of the stage instead of the usual red drapes. There were also model theatres with curtains and figures for children to play with.

Then I was whisked off to an enormous complex that had a modern theatre, a concert hall, and the university where music, dance and acting were taught. Wow. It must have been one of the best equipped in Europe.

We all went to a meeting where we started to plan a huge world theatre festival for young people in 2026. The minister for the arts dropped in to hear what we had to say. And all this came about because the project leader came to see our show at the Albert Hall.

Coming home I thought about the arts provision in Antwerp. Belgium sees value in the arts and puts its money where its mouth is. “Good for them, “I said to myself through gritted teeth – I’m just jealous!

Theatretrain, a nationwide provider of weekend theatre schools for young people aged 4-18, specialises in weekly classes in acting, singing, and dancing. An emphasis is placed on learning valuable life skills such as confidence, empathy, courage, and resilience. If you know a child who loves to dance, act and sing or could do with a little confidence boost why not visit to find out what our performing arts classes can offer your child at one of our 80 locations across the UK.

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