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‘There isn’t a woman who hasn’t experienced it’

  • Theatre

It takes courage to bring up a contentious issue on stage. Marie-Mae van Zuilen of the School of Acting in Arnhem doesn't shirk the challenge. Together with her supervisor Mara van Vlijmen, fourth-year student Marie-Mae talks about Dreaming, her graduation performance about a woman with sexual trauma.

Marie-Mae Van Zuilen - Photographer: Isabel Sánchez Olid
Marie-Mae Van Zuilen - Photographer: Isabel Sánchez Olid

“In my friendship group, I don't know a single woman who hasn't experienced sexual harassment”, says Marie-Mae van Zuilen, who will shortly be graduating from the ArtEZ School of Acting in Arnhem. “I have too, but this is not going to be a biographical ‘dear diary’ performance. I want to make clear how awful it is that sexual harassment has become a kind of social tradition. At the moment it is a hot topic and all kinds of bald statements are being made about it, whereas it is a very complex issue. It causes dissociation that takes the form of oversexualisation or total avoidance, for example. Both can even happen in the same person. I want to talk about how things exist side by side, that it isn't black and white. It's a complicated issue, but I believe we can work it out."

“These elements appealed to me immediately.”

“It's quite daring to tackle a big issue like this head on", says supervisor Mara van Vlijmen. “Theatre isn't supposed to be therapy, but a subject like this naturally comes with some baggage." Marie-Mae’s conceptual formal ideas immediately appealed to her. “She has a clear vision and has created a performance full of contrasts. That always makes things happen. Her dramaturgical choices, the everyday, almost banal actions on stage, combine with the heavy theme and the pop music she makes herself, a kind of emo hip-hop – these elements appealed to me immediately.”

Music as a story

Music is an important part of Marie-Mae’s work; she produces all of the – mainly electronic – music for her performance herself. “Over the years, I have discovered that this is one of my strengths. Music could be much more a part of theatre itself. Just as you use decor, you can also use music. I see it as a way of telling a story. A title like ‘fuck my feelings away’ is quite literal of course, but it can also be a metaphor. Every track tells its own story. It directly impacts on your audience and makes the performance accessible without being too obvious. My formal research is also about the role of music in theatre. There is a lot of who I am and what interests me in this performance.”

The music is in production and the rehearsals will begin shortly. Marie-Mae is not that bothered about whether the solo performance is ultimately a success. “Just by working through this process, it will already have been a success. I like doing lots of different things and I've had the opportunity to try them all out during this course." Lecturer Mara: “I have found Marie-Mae to be someone who really gets stuck into things. You can see it in her face when she wants to achieve something.”