By Merel Eigenhuis
During the rehearsals for Womb m/f/x (which will premiere at SPRING in Autumn XXXL), director Ulrike Quade has found the time to discuss her latest work with us from her rehearsal studio.
Hi Ulrike! Could you tell me how you became a theatre maker, and where your fascination for puppets comes from?
I was a student at the HKU acting school in Utrecht. And I found out I had a way of creating images that was unique to me. So my development into a visual maker, with puppets as a component, grew from there. As part of my education I went to Japan and did an internship with the Japanese theatre maker Hoichi Okamoto, where I learnt to make dolls and perform with them. And while in Japan, I learnt a lot about the different forms of theatre in Japan, such as No, Kabuki and Bunraku theatre. The Japanese dramatic genres stretch across a wide range and have been an inspiration to me in many aspects ever since.
Have you ever performed one of your own shows there?
No, not yet. I did go on tour with Hoichi Okamoto, but I haven’t presented any of my own shows over there. It’s definitely on my bucket list, though!
You are currently in the process of creating Womb m/f/x. What inspired you to make this work?
There were lots of different sources. The idea started from the ancient Egyptian myth of Isis, Osiris and Seth, and we linked it with another subject: the desire to have children. The myth goes like this: the god Osiris is cut into 14 pieces by his brother Seth. Isis, his wife, tries to gather the pieces, but she can find only 13 of them. The 14th part, his penis, is lost. Isis puts the 13 pieces together and uses her own thumb to impregnate herself. This myth led to a much wider research into what it means to want to have children.
And then there’s Corona, which also plays a huge part in the development of the piece: after we had finished the first rehearsal period, the virus appeared. It made us decide to capture the entire myth on film, working with The Transketeers, an audio-visual collective consisting of three transmen. We turned our entire planning on its head and during the summer we filmed the story of Isis, Osiris and Seth up to when Horus (the new human) is conceived.
And then it also became a very intimate collaboration content-wise with The Transketeers, because their personal stories were gradually woven into the fabric of the show. It highlighted all kinds of different aspects to the subject matter. In 2014, for instance, the law regarding the sterilization of transmen was changed. It means transmen are no longer legally obliged to undergo sterilization. So transmen have the possibility to bear children as males, or however they choose to identify. Until 2014 this was legally impossible. When, in our case, the Netherlands is one of the most open-minded places to live. The three performers embody these stories, but they are and will stay the personal stories of The Transketeers.
The three performers you just mentioned each have a background in a different art discipline. What is it like collaborating with all these different artists?
It’s gone really, really well. I’m used to working with different disciplines and it doesn’t always go so well. Sometimes it can be hard for people to switch between disciplines. In this case, we took our time. Our filmmakers aren’t purely there to make a documentary film, but they’re creating dramatized visual scenes. One of our performers, Gabriel Casanova Miralda, is a screen actor but he’s also a musician, and the other performer, Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti, is a mime but also a singer, and the third is Gil ‘The Grid’ Gomes Leal [known in the Netherlands as a contestant in Holland’s Got Talent, ed.], is a dancer who also works with text. Limits are not our starting point. We are very fluid in our process, and that’s what the subject matter demands as well.
How do you as a director deal with all these different disciplines?
In this case, the biggest question, because of Corona, is: how to balance the live aspect and the recorded aspect. We recorded a number of things, which helped us out enormously. The form we’ve ended up with was born of necessity, but in the end, it was only right to do it this way. Now the question is: how to place this ‘live’ in a space? I have some idea about it, but for the moment, this is our biggest challenge.
Your website tells us innovation is an important theme for you. How does the show reflect this?
Innovation is present in different ways in this show. First of all: we wanted to create a retelling of the myth. And it was clear that if we wanted to retell the myth today, we couldn’t stick to just one narrative. Often in theatre there’s an author who writes the story, so there’s this one narrative, born from a single mind. That’s a limited narrative. We’re trying to innovate on this level, too, with the genderfluid theme, but also with the central question we’re asking in Womb m/f/x, which is: what exactly is this desire to have children? Also, we’re thinking in creative ways about the space we’re in. It doesn’t mean I want to leave the theatre space, but I think that after Corona, we’ll have to reconsider the digital space, and how it relates to physical space. These times demand that we focus on innovation, more so than ever before.
Thank you Ulrike, and see you at SPRING in Autumn XXXL!
Visit Womb m/f/x by Ulrike Quade Company on Friday 13 November at 7:00 PM (premiere) or 9:00 PM, or on Saturday 14 November at 4:00, 7:00 or 9:00 PM at Stadsschouwburg Utrecht. For tickets, click here.
Image credit: Anouk van Kalmthout