Reading my blogs and reports, you have maybe got the impression that the development in engineering education is the most important think in my universe. I cannot deny this subject has kept me quite busy since 2014 when I started my orientation and vision development about engineering education in 2030. It has been the focus of my work and has taken quite some leisure time as well.
I reassure you there is more in my life than this future of engineering education with its Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) alone. In my leisure time I use arts to spark my imagination and creativity. Occasionally by painting. More intensively by organising an annual street theatre festival with 15 to 20 troupes of national and international street artists, street musicians, stilt walkers, puppetry and living statues. Mixed with about 10 troupes of local artists such as musicians, singers, choirs, and more than 200 young jazz and ballet dancers.
STEM vs STEAM
Every now and then I hear people say STEM in engineering education is not enough. We have to add Arts into the mix to make STEAM. The “A” in STEAM would not simply mean adding art subjects, but applying creative thinking to STEM projects, and sparking students’ imagination and creativity through arts.
It is exactly the creativity and improvisation of the street performers that spark my imagination. And it is probably my engineering skill of analytical thinking and logical reasoning that enables me to connect the many dots into a full-day programme with about 70 performances. Where the challenge is distributing the fun factor over time across the five spots in the relatively small town and shopping centre with minimum interference.
Why street theatre?
Street theatre is meant for everybody, of all ages, of and from all layers of the population. People who might not have ever been to, or been able to afford to go to, the “legitimate” theatre come and watch street shows. It’s a form of theatre that appeals to a broad public. I find it fascinating how artists are capable attracting people’s attention with minimum equipment and facilities.
What a difference it is compared to academics and engineering students! The artists give attention to their costume, make-up, character, music, songs, magic tricks, acrobatics, juggling. Everything is real, not virtual. Anything goes when it comes to attracting peoples attention. For many the basic principle is to respond to the public’s reactions. They have to keep the attention focused on their performance, because “zapping” is the common behaviour in the street. It is so different from the engineering way of thinking.
Selecting the artists is time demanding. Each year 300-400 artists express their interest to perform at our festival by sending emails with proposals and youtube videos to our website. Our team of six enthusiastic volunteers has an extremely high Do-It-Yourself mentality. We do all business in direct contact with the artists, and screen all shows individualy. The diversity of our team members, a receptionist in interim management, a journalist, two primary school teachers, a quality controller in audiovisual equipment, and a university director of education assures we select performers that appeal each year a broad group of spectatoors of more than 5000 spectators each year, in a small town that has approximately 20,000 inhabitants and is centrally located between the cities Amsterdam and Utrecht.
The devil is in the details, and the weather conditions
Selecting and communicating with the professional artists is important but not the single job to be done. Sponsoring, logistics, permits, safety, road closures, catering, public relations with local and regional newspapers, radio and television, the website, twitter (Theaterdrv) and Facebook (Straattheaterfestival De Ronde Venen), and not to be forgotten a bit of engineering for power and sound equipment. (Sorry it’s all in Dutch, but the fun and engagement at the festival is international).
The only uncontrolable factor is the weather. We have no back-up for bad weather conditions. The street is the venue and stage for the artists. In the past 15 years I have been in the lead of the festival,we have been very fortunate: Each time the festival takes place, a high-pressure area seems to develop in our town with sun shine and thousands of happy smiling people.
And so it happened Saturday 17 June 2017 once again, celebrating the 25th edition of the festival (see videoclip at 7.5 min). The culmination of a year hard work. Thousands of laughing faces, joy and engagement. These simple things make me happy. They let me forget all the hard work of preparation. And they also help me renewing the energy for the thinking about the roadmap for engineering education till 2030.