Twelve years in development, the two-part play The Girl/ The Woman by Aanisa Vylet makes its world Premiere at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres this week. In this new work, we meet The Girl as she discovers her sexuality and navigates her way through cultural and religious traditions-guided by her confidant– the internet. We sat down with performers Nisrine Amine and Aanisa Vylet to talk about the process of staging a new work that unapologetically challenges form and language in theatre.
Nisrine, a play that is authentically about women and created by a female artist from Western Sydney, what has it been like to work on a story like this?
NISRINE: Empowering. Exciting. Refreshing. Much of this play is my story. It is my sister’s story. My mother’s story. And it’s told from someone who has a genuine connection to the content. One cannot possibly understand the feeling of performing characters that are rooted in truth and experience versus those that are rooted in just ‘extensive Google researching’. There is absolutely no comparison. The references are more specific, the characters are more nuanced, there is a diversity of opinion, there are layers and colours and complexity. Now I see that. I finally see that difference. And I don’t think I can ever go back to performing two-dimensional and underwritten female characters. Or, if I do, I will definitely have more of an awareness of what I’m engaging in, plus a shitload of questions to ask.
This work is drawn from Aanisa’s life experiences which have then been extended into the theatrical imaginative world. Aanisa, What was the process like to realise this new work while practising the appropriate duty of care? And Nisrine, the experience of being welcomed to this world?
AANISA: I listen to the work. It tells me what it needs. Listening to my gut helps too.
I have been fortunate to work with so many wonderful brave artists during this production and past developments. I have deeply appreciated Dino’s, Moreblessing’s, Ruth’s, Leo’s, Joanne Kee’s and Nisrine’s generosity during the rehearsal process. Dino, in particular, has sat with me in many cafes for months, we have had many discussions in our attempt to investigate the dramaturgical core of the work. The process of creating this production reminds me of the time when I developed “The Girl” in Europe – where I felt safe to take risks and make mistakes.
Nothing is perfect. At times, I have accidentally given over my power and I have had to learn how to step up and regain it back. Serving the story and being true to my own artistry has helped me stay on track.
NISRINE: When I got the call, I thought Christmas and all the other festive holidays had come early. Not only had I worked with Aanisa in the past and known of her brilliance and true artistry, but I’d also just seen Dino’s Metamorphoses and was blown away with what he did with physical space. And so when that day came when I joined the team, well…*insert dancing salsa woman emoji here*. Entering this process, I knew I had a lot of work to do given it was my first true physical theatre and image show but I was made to feel part of the family from the get-go. There has been a real feeling of collaboration and exploration, of space and voice and body manipulation, which has elevated this project from being a simple stage play to a theatre of moving image. It is an experience and a physical spectacle really.
Physical theatre and its foundational elements were essential to your objective of imagining a truly theatrical reality. What does physical theatre offer you, and actors in general, that traditional theatre does not?
AANISA: Having trained internationally in at L’Ecole Jacque Lecoq in physical theatre, I’ve come to understand that it fundamentally reminds us that the truth of our human experience transcends language. We don’t need to be great at written and verbal expression to create an entertaining and efficacious piece of theatre. I think that is why it speaks to people from destroyed cultures and I think that is why it spoke to me. However, I wouldn’t say that institutional training should replace the journey of an artist finding their own form. It should add to your toolkit. You do not need an institution to validate you. Jacques Lecoq once said something along these lines…”To be skilled at physical theatre you need to be skilled at living life”…maybe he is right?
NISRINE: I have never needed to stretch more in my life! It’s definitely a gruelling and intense process; it has required not only clarity of mind, but a nimbleness (is that a word?) of the body. I admire Aanisa’s ability to jump on and climb things which such speed and grace; her relationship to the space is much like a playground – there is a definite sense of play and exploration and I’m starting to give myself over to that. And what has been really lovely is seeing just how unnecessary text and dialogue and words are in communicating a message. We have this gorgeous gift (our bodies) that we can use and manipulate in so many ways, and it speaks volumes if we let it.
Aanisa, this work has been in development for over 12 years; in smaller parts, it has travelled with you over seas and existed in a myriad of languages and spaces. What inspired the decision to realise The Girl The Woman in its entirety now?
AANISA: This is a story that is important to the cultural sensibility of our times.
– We need more female centred narratives.
– We need more stories from people of diverse backgrounds from Western Sydney.
– We need more stories where people from strict cultural backgrounds are humanized.
– We need more plays that explore the power of “theatrical forms” and the “neutral physical body”.
“The Woman” emerged because there was more to say. There was a character in the “The Girl” that was being underrepresented and gradually she has risen up and taken the lead in “The Woman“….this character is the character of the Mother. How many times do we shine a light on Australian women who are first-generation migrants? I mean really shine a light on them?
If this play was published – I want it to be shared in such a way where two women, from any cultural background, could pick it up, change the language and still feel empowered by and performing in the same story. My hope is that this play becomes a vehicle for understanding, empowerment and change.
This work has the genuine potential to reach wider audiences than most new works do in Australia. As it continues to grow, what is your message to those audiences? What do you want them to take away from this play if anything at all?
AANISA: For now, I hope that this story is relatable – regardless of your gender, background or age…
I hope it does not offend you in any way (that was never my intention).
I hope – it hits you, not in the head, but in the heart (hitting you in your gut is fine too)
and I hope you enjoy the ride and you were reminded why theatre is better than sport…(now let’s convince the rest of the country 😉
Favourite moment during rehearsals?
NISRINE: Besides dancing in the mirror to Solange and Beyonce, my favourite moment is when we – as a team – have solved seemingly unsolvable questions (dramaturgical, character-based etc). I think many artists don’t value enough the significance of ‘being stuck’ and ‘posing questions’ about the script or the character. We think we need to get it right straight away and have it all sorted. But there is a real joy I’ve found in reaching points of absolute confusion and block; these are the moments that signify the beginning of some grand discoveries and yes, these moments can be frustrating and jarring, but golly it’s fun when the code is cracked!