A Party Boat, Opera, and the Plastic Soup

Last fall Axa participated in an academic competition with kids from schools around Amsterdam to design an invention. Another team ended up winning according to the judges, but the audience prize went to Axa and her classmates from Denise.

Their winning idea was a “Party Boat”. The boat would be made of recycled plastic. On the boat would be a dance floor that collected kinetic energy from the dancers and converted it to power the boat. It would also somehow collect the energy generated when they sang into the microphone. Besides being fun, the boat was meant to raise awareness of the “plastic soup” clogging the world’s oceans and threatening the lives of marine creatures and the health of the planet.

As well as being quirky and ecologically-minded, the thing I loved about it was that the idea of a party boat was so Dutch. The Netherlands has always been a country of seafarers. Rotterdam is still one of the largest ports in the world, and whether in city or countryside, we are surrounded by canals. Parades are as likely to take place on “floats” in a canal as in a street. There’s even a concert that takes place every year on a stage erected over a canal, and the prime “seats” are spaces allocated to private boats. And on any sunny day you’re likely to see families out picnicking in boats, or, yes, young people out partying in them.

For months we had been hearing rumours that the kids were going to get to participate in some kind of special activity as a result of their contest victory but it wasn’t till a few weeks before that we found out what it would be: the sponsors of the event had actually manufactured the boat out of recycled plastic (minus the clean-energy dance floor, but hey, you can’t have everything). Axa and her classmates were going to spend the day after King’s Day (the biggest country-wide party in the Netherlands) sailing through the canals of Amsterdam in their boat, picking up garbage.

I really have to applaud the creativity of all parties involved in this project. The original contest had taken place at Amsterdam’s iconic Opera Ballet, and the boat would be departing from there. When we arrived, I was delighted to see this rainbow shark, made from recycled plastic, decorating the square in front of the opera house.

The kid-inventors received a fitting send-off from the cast of the opera.

They spent a couple of hours recovering treasures and monstrosities from the canal, and a good time was had by all.

I try not to be THAT expat who’s always insufferably gushing over the amazing opportunities her kids are getting because they live abroad. But I admit that as I stood in front of the opera house watching them set sail against a perfect backdrop of picturesque Amsterdam canal houses, I did have a moment.

Even more so when I found out they had also been gifted tickets to the opera! Be still my heart.

Tony graciously said he wouldn’t mind if I were the one to be Axa’s accompanying adult. So as soon as we got home, I looked up the opera in question on the Opera Ballet’s website.

I had seen posters for A Dog’s Heart up around Amsterdam during the preceding weeks, and frankly it looked like the last opera I would take a kid to. It’s a dark comedic drama based on a satirical novel about communism. Take a look at the trailer (if you dare!).

Fortunately, it turns out that Hondenhaartje (Little Dog’s Heart) is an entirely different animal, so to speak. It’s an opera designed for kids, although (loosely) based on the original.

Axa and I arrived on the evening of the opera with one of her classmates, all dressed up for the occasion.

The opera was, frankly, rather bizarre. But clever and interesting too; even quite brilliant. I understood probably 50% of the completely Dutch libretto, but even I could tell that, as in all good kid entertainment, a significant percentage of the jokes were aimed at the adults. I’d describe the opera as a sort of theatre of the absurd for kids. The theme was the “plastic sea”, so it was all very topical to the whole saga I’m describing in this post. The girls and I agreed afterwards that one of the best parts was when the back curtain was slowly raised to reveal a backdrop of quivering plastic jellyfish.

The kids were over the moon to be invited to the fancy reception afterwards, celebrating the opera’s premiere. They felt very grown up.

They ingested copious amounts of orange juice, canapés, and sweets, and even got to meet the real live dog who starred in the production.

I was thrilled that Axa had such a great first impression of the opera. I have to say, it was even worth missing the first half of the Eurovision final.