A few months ago I received an email from the Head of English at the adult education centre where I teach: a free theatrical show called ‘De Man in Europe’ was being put on in the Warande in Turnhout, where the centre is located, for students of English. Would any of my students be interested in going to see it? There was a little information on the Warande’s website about it. It was to be a one-man show, performed by a Belgian artist called Lucas De Man, and was about Europe. Most of my students were unable to see it because it was on a Wednesday morning and they all have jobs, but a few were able to and of course it was free so I booked our places and last Wednesday we met for a coffee first and then rocked up there, not really expecting that much but curious.
(Photograph of Lucas De Man from here)
Before I go any further: I don’t suppose anyone reads this blog who is involved in education in Britain but if you do and you have the power to do so, you should immediately book Lucas De Man to come to your school or your area and give his talk. My students and I are all middle-aged and so not at all his target audience which is pimply youth but our minds were blown by his extraordinary performance, simply fizzing with ideas. (His English is excellent as you will see if you watch his documentary, the link to which I’ve provided below.)
Lucas De Man was artist-in-residence in Den Bosch in the Netherlands when he was asked to do something for the centenary of the death of Hieronymous Bosch, the town’s most famous son. He started reading about the European Renaissance, of which Bosch was of course a part, and ended up travelling through Europe in search of present-day visionaries, our Erasmuses, Mores, Copernicuses and Boschs, who were thinking about and trying to address the enormous problems facing people today. He talked about the rise of extremism, the failure of traditional politics, the destruction of the environment and the co-opting of the commons by the rich and powerful, but importantly he also talked about solutions. Sensitive to the high rates of depression, burn-out and suicide among young people, his message to them was: you can’t change society on your own, but everything you do creates society; even small actions can make the world a better place, as Michael Jackson sang.
And it was the manner of the delivery that was so engaging. De Man is clearly a man of high-octane energy and when he’s talking you want to listen to him; he’s very funny and very knowledgeable but wears his learning lightly. He also uses film, which he interacts with very cleverly, and music – and Play Mobile! And of course, what he is saying is so very important: look around yourself, see the problems, don’t be apathetic but engage. Whatever your political leaning, that is a message you should hear.
So, Lucas De Man, British people! Get him in your schools. Here you can watch the documentary on which his performance is based, Meeting Modern Visionaries (the subtitles are Dutch but it’s in English). Wherever you live, it is worth your time, I really recommend watching it.
(Photograph of Lucas De Man during his show from here)