For many years now I’ve been a member of the theatre group The Hamburg Players, and for even more years, the Hamburg Players have participated regularly in the annual theatre festival FEATS. No different this year. I was home from South America just in time to go to Antwerp, where the festival took place this year. How could I have said no to exploring a new city while hanging out with my theatre folks and watching some great plays in the process?
First impressions and old friends
I arrived in Antwerp on Friday morning after a long overnight bus trip. I shared an Airbnb with a friend but she wouldn’t arrive until later in the day. Because of that, I had a bit of time to have a look around the city on my own first. This early in the day Antwerp was still quite empty. It reminded me a lot of Brussels, where I was two years ago (also for FEATS). Not surprising, as they are so close to each other. And I don’t mean that in any way negative. Both are very beautiful!
However, more extensive exploration would have to wait until the following days, as the rest of this day was mostly spend sorting out the accommodation. There was some confusion concerning which room we should stay in, but we managed to sort it out once my roomie arrived. By then, it was almost time to go to the theatre for the first night of performances. The greater part of the evening was spent catching up with friends and reuniting with the rest of the Hamburg crew.
Mornings in town, evenings in the theatre
FEATS lasts for four days, with three plays each evening and an adjudication afterwards. On the last night, this is followed by the award ceremony. There is an afternoon program as well with further short plays that don’t take part in the competition. It’s free for everyone and often interesting, but this year I mostly opted to explore Antwerp instead. It’s too pretty to pass on.
All of Saturday, we walked along the harbour and through the Sint-Annatunnel, to enjoy the views of the Antwerp skyline from the other side. Eventually, we explored the historic old town itself. When we needed a break, we strengthened ourselves with an original Belgian waffle – a must in this country!
Antwerp is small enough that you can do it completely on foot. If you know me, you’ll know I love exploring a city in this way. Most of the time we didn’t have a specific destination in mind but simply wandered around, allowing ourselves to get lost in the small streets and hidden corners of Antwerp. My kind of city trip!
The sun came out in time for our theatre success
Sunday was the day the sun finally came out and temperatures rose. However, it was also the day we mostly spend inside the theatre rehearsing, as our performance was on that evening. There was just enough time in between for a lunch with all cast and crew in the sun, as well as some sun-bathing near the water. And an ice-cream. You can’t have this kind of weather and not eat ice-cream.
Our performance went exceedingly well – so well, in fact, that we won the awards for best play and best actor! I can’t really take any credit as I was only marginally involved in the production, but I’m incredibly proud of everyone else! By the way, if you want to read more about what went on behind the scenes of FEATS, you can read this article I wrote for the Hamburg Players homepage.
The next day we could relax, having put the work part behind us. Luckily, the great weather lasted. On this day we went to visit the Liebfrauenkathedrale, the city’s main cathedral. There’s an art exhibition inside as well. It includes some famous paintings by Ruben, a Dutch painter, and local hero. Another great location to visit is the viewing platform on top of the MAS, a museum in the harbour. The rooftop is free (not the museum, though), so come here for beautiful views of Antwerp.
When theatre lets you travel
One of the things I love about FEATS is that it regularly gives me the opportunity to visit new places. In the past few years, I have been to Luxembourg, Brussels and now Antwerp because of it. All places that may not have made it onto my immediate bucket list otherwise, but that, without exception, stunned me once I was there. Antwerp is not a place I ever really had on the radar, but it’s a true little gem. It’s close to the water and features lots of beautiful historic architecture, interesting museums and churches all around.
A beautiful city and the sweet victory of getting two awards – how could I not have enjoyed this weekend trip?
Have you been to Antwerp? Is it on your bucket list? Are you a theatre nerd too? Share in the comments.