An Interview with Anne Mulleners
New company Ja?Theatre are bringing /SYLVIA\ to this year’s border-busting Voila European Theatre Festival for the first time. Witness a historical portrait painting session in 1920s Berlin Etcetera Theatre, Camden; 13/16/18 Nov. We spoke to Dutch director Anne Mulleners……
Hello Anne, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Anne: Hello Mumble. I’m originally from the Netherlands, a town called Nijmegen, which is near the German border on the east side, & now I’m living in Lewisham, South London.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Anne: To be honest I mainly developed a love for the theatre when I moved to England to study a degree in English Literature at the University of Greenwich. In my first year I began to see quite a few theatre pieces through my course, & as a result of seeing these I switched my course in the second year to Drama & English. From that moment it has just developed more & more.
Can you tell us about your training?
Anne: After I graduated I went on to do a masters in Theatre Criticism & Dramaturgy at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama. From there I’ve been mainly freelancing in assisting & stage management work – to do as much practical work as possible.
Can you tell us about Ja? Theatre?
Anne: Well, we all did the same MA at Central. I found the play – Sylvia – when I was in Paris with our course. I grew interested in putting it on, or at least translating or adapting it. I spoke to Melissa Syverson about this & we began to develop it. At some point we thought why don’t we create a company to put it on as we were both interested in making work & then, after this current configuration of roles, we would like to continue making work which perhaps someone else would direct.
The company seems to have a specific theatrical MO- which is described as ‘overcoming the ever-present dichotomy between British New Writing and ‘European’ Regie theater.’ What is the backstory?
Anne: During our MA we read an article in the Guardian by David Hare which highlighted a Germanic form of theatre in which the director leads a protest & has more powers than maybe the writer. David Hare describes how he finds that this kind of theatre is infesting Britain. We had a discussion about this article & how it was received, & because Melissa is from Norway, & we have both have worked in Europe, & since the article we became struck with both the differences & the similarities, but definitely by the fact that people tend to always separate these things. We became intrigued by making theatre here in Britain that would bridge the gap, utilising & engaging with both traditions.
Do you socialise with the ladies outwith your professional relationship?
Anne: We meet up all the time – & we do try sometimes to do other things & not talk about the company, which proves difficult!
Find out More about Ja? Theatre
You are directing for the company for the first time with /SYLVIA\ /a woman becomes a painting\, at this year’s VOILA festival, can you tell us about the play?
Anne: Its basically a play in which you see the main character being painted in 1920s Berlin. She is a real person, Sylvia Von Harden. You see this painting session & while she narrates her life, she more & more becomes this portrait. It engages with themes of gender, about LGBTQ representation, & its mainly about how we see people – how people can at first be a subject & then become an object.
That is indeed an obscure corner of history – what drew the company to it?
Anne: When I saw the play, I found it a very nice text, on the page its black & red, its a bilingual piece, I never mentioned that, its very niche. The main draw to it was the way the language went from French to German & then German to French – & the colouring was altered with the switch & I thought it a really interesting way of dealing with print. Then it also turned out to be a monologue, & then to be about this fascinating woman in 1920s Berlin, so it all just kept adding & becoming more & more interesting.
How is directing Sylvia coming to you – is it natural or a struggle?
Anne: I would say I’ve obviously had some training & had some ideas to go off – but I did find the first few rehearsals to be really difficult having not done it as much, especially practically. But the more & more I’ve been doing it in rehearsals, & seen what works & what doesn’t, & also with the person in the room & how that goes, I’ve come to understand it & to also enjoy it, which is the main part. Yes, its definitely a struggle, but something that definitely pays off the more I do it.
Thank you Anne, one more question. Have you prepared Sylvia especially for the pan-European Voila Festival?
Anne: No. We were already developing it last year & we even went to the Voila Festival last year & we were like, this is a really great festival, we should apply to this. So we applied this year & were happily accepted. In that sense it wasn’t specifically developed for Voila, but its definitely a really good match. We are interested in the European theatre aspect of our work, & it fits really well with their overall program.
The Etcetera Theatre, Camden