PERFORMANCE | JUNE 2022
After feeling deeply insulted by a sign in a bookstore, a young woman’s spiraling thoughts freeze her to the store’s threshold. Should she go back? Talk to anyone? Blame them for upholding unsettling stereotypes? Or should she run? Again. Not today.
Olympe is a twohander about words and war. About Olympe de Gouges, the extraordinary playwright who fought for women’s rights during the French Revolution, and was guillotined because of it. She’s summoned by our hero to weigh revolution, revenge and cancel culture against patience and forgiveness. But balancing how to be a woman hasn’t become any easier in the three hundred years that passed since she wrote her last piece.
In creating Olympe I set out to examine the timelessness of misogyny as a result of the shape of our languages (aiming at Dutch and French in particular). And by inviting Olympe de Gouges back to the scaffold, it is also a meeting of two playwrights, debating which stories to forget and which to keep on writing.
THE WOMAN IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE WOMAN
I wrote the text in October 2021, developing it further with the help of Casper Vanderputte. Not long after, I teamed up with the fiercely talented Belgian actors Nikki Deras and Anneliese Billen, who both brought their own experiences of womanhood and words to the table. We worked with a very condensed timeframe, putting it all together in only five days of rehearsal.
In my staging, I aimed for sobriety, to make room for the contents of the debate, making sure it’s heard – and that is uncomfortable. But, it’s also a mad story about two fantastically imaginative thinkers, making yet another attempt at being brave.
After its performance on graduation festival Gemaakt, the Theaterkrant wrote the following about our work:
The set is intimate. The audience sits at a ninety-degree angle around the small playing field, where there’s a few stacks of books and some white cloths accentuate the height of the room. The staging is pragmatic. For nearly an hour, Nikki Deras, playing with great conviction, stands on one of the stacks of books.
What follows is a swirling dialogue between “the girl” and De Gouges (played functionally restrained by Anneliese Billen), in which we look deep into the soul of the main character. She not only struggles with her identity, but also has major life questions. We scroll through her childhood and her sharp judgments of other women, to end up in the many doubts that play out in her mind. Carefully chosen sound and music effectively support atmosphere and emotion. The timing of the acting is razor-sharp. Humor and poignancy alternate, and between acts we also get a touch of unwritten history. From De Gouges’ feminine point of view, of course. What a layered, interwoven work – and so funny too! Skillfully Thoden van Velzen mounts some more contemporary elements in her piece, in which every word is weighed – also in a political sense.
Olympe was performed as my graduation piece at Toneelacademie Maastricht during Festival Gemaakt. The performance was complemented by the lecture Citoyenne, or the 18 grams that remained, about the life of the Gouges, which was also held at the festival.