During the last two months of 2015, I visited quite a lot of plays. Six to be exact! Over the course of the next two weeks, I will review them all for you. I will start by reviewing three of the six plays in this article, since they all starred at the same theater festival: The Play of Nijmegen.
The Play of Nijmegen
This event, which was a contest for the best play of Nijmegen, was held on November 20th and 22nd, 2015. I actually attended the event myself with my group Wow-Effect and my play Inbetween and we made it to the finals. Although we kicked ass, we did not win, unfortunately. I was quite gutted at first to my own surprise, but we do not have to be ashamed at all for not winning the contest, as the other participants all were extremely good as well.
The winner: ‘Hart Gezocht’ by Het Linnen
Theater group Het Linnen was the winner of this contest with their play ‘Hart Gezocht‘ (translated: ‘Wanted: Heart’). I can see why, because they used a lot of style techniques which are possible on stage only and which gave the play a lot of depth as well as mystery.
While entering the theater, a woman was greeting us and handing out little candy hearts. I thought this was quite a nice gesture, but hadn’t got a clue that this was actually the beginning of the play. She was one of the two actors. The second one was sitting amongst us in the audience. They started talking to each other and at one point, the woman in the audience stood up and joined her counterpart on stage. This was a very interesting way to start a play.
The two actresses kept making interesting choices, by making a great use of the stage, creating different time frames at the same time, and by their dynamic relationship. The play was about two ex-lovers, trying to find their way without each other. The whole play consisted of shattered fragments. This made it very interesting to watch, because it constantly made me wonder in what time frame we were and what was coming next. However, it also created distance for me as a spectator. Since it was hard to grasp all the aspects at once, it was harder for me to relate to the two characters and their story than it would be in a more conventional play. However, there were also moments without any of this distance and when I felt really touched. My favorite moment of the play was when one of the actresses threw all the candy hearts on the floor, one by one. It felt like giving up somehow, like a moment of despair. I love symbols like this in a play.
Although I had difficulties sometimes connecting completely, overall I really liked this play. There were so many style elements, beautiful symbols and contradictions and the start of the play was so playful and original. I can understand why the jury has picked them as winners.
Esther van der Wel
Esther was the youngest finalist of The Play of Nijmegen. She was only 17 years old. It’s already pretty awesome to participate in a contest like this at such a young age, but what was even more stunning was that she had written the play herself.
She started the play by putting masking tape on the floor. With this tape, she created 16 different squares. It was remarkable how interesting it was to watch someone putting masking tape on the floor. She did it with a certain determination and filled with emotions, which build up a curiosity in me. She filled her squares with paper signs. Each of them reflected a certain type of social group.
She was eagerly trying to belong to one of these social groups. She didn’t know where she would fit in though, so she just decided to try some out. I think it’s epic to be able to write a play about social groups, with no more than just one actor. It seems impossible. She solved it brilliantly though, by calling certain people from these social groups. Each time she transformed into someone that was not herself. She put on a mask and tried desperately to fit in. Each time she’d fail. A quite painful and vulnerable subject. And she dared to be vulnerable, which was awesome. However, she also managed to add a humorous note to each of her ‘characters’. This resulted in a play that was touching, realistic, but at the same time not at all too heavy. A perfect balance.
To make it even more admirable, this wasn’t just a story she had written. This was a story about her true self, in the early days of high school, trying to fit in and failing to do so. Please not that Esther was still attending high school as she performed this play. She was reflecting on her younger self in such an adult way, and showing all this vulnerability on stage, while she still was going to that same place every day. That place where people form social groups, where everyone is trying to fit in and where one’s biggest fear is to be excluded. When I look back at my high school years, I can honestly say I would have never been able to reflect on myself and high school like that in a million years. Esther could and that was probably what I admired most in her whole play.
Esther was definitely my personal favorite of all the finalists I saw. If we had to lose, I had hoped to lose because of her.
Ilse was the only finalist I had seen in the preselections already (originally I had seen Karin Verwoert and Michiel Kruidenier, but they sadly had to leave the contest because of private issues). Ilse was my favorite actress of the preselections, so I couldn’t wait to see her full play. The start of the play was different from the version I had seen before. Ilse still unrolled a giant piece of paper on the floor as if it were a white carpet and there was still the light of the movie projector. Its light was turned on shorter and from a different angle, though. I kind of regretted that, because I was so mesmerized by the way it was before. However, had I not seen the first version, I would have loved this beginning all the same.
The props Ilse had were simple: The paper ‘carpet’, a ladder and a small backpack. She was also very simply dressed; she wore a plain white dress and she was barefooted. This resulted in all the attention being drawn to the content of her play. Her play was also fragmentary, but her fragments were shown in a chronological time frame. Each fragment displayed a certain part of her character’s life, beginning from early childhood and ending as an old woman. During each fragment she would open her backpack and get something out of it. These were simple objects reflecting the part of her life she was playing in at that point. After her monologue she would throw this object on the floor, move the ladder a bit more to the front and start another time frame of her life.
At one point, the image on stage became very clear to me. The white carpet, displaying her life’s path. And on this path all these objects, which looked like little pieces from her past scattered on the floor, kind of forgotten, but still there to make her the person she was now. When that huge symbol hit me, I got pretty emotional. It was such a beautiful metaphor and it gave the whole play so much depth.
I would definitely want to see more of Ilse in the future. She’s a very talented writer and actress.
Inbetween by Wow-Effect Theater
I will not review this play, since I wrote it myself. Besides that, I even played a role, so I haven’t seen the play from an audience perspective. I will however write a little bit about my own experience during this performance. Our play was about Shakespearean characters who had died with blood on their hands, either by killing others or by killing themselves. They were not sent to Hell though. At least, not immediately. They ended up in Inbetween instead. There, they were all given one more chance to prove they were actually pure of heart. The once who’d succeed, would be sent to Heaven. The others would be going to Hell after all. There were not enough places in Heaven for everybody though.
I was so proud to be standing in the finals, as this was the second play I’d ever written. Also, Wow-Effect consists of people with various acting experiences. Some only had one year of acting experience and one of our members even only started acting last summer! To have gotten this far with all of these people in such a short while is amazing, I think. Let’s thank our director Ruud Mol for that, but also the great dedication of everyone involved.
On the day of the finals, I was so nervous. Not only about my parts, but about every part in the play. Since I had written the script, I knew all the lines, I knew which ones were super important to say exactly right and I knew all the slips we’d made during rehearsals. I was unable to breath for most of the play, listening carefully to all the dialogues. At one point I was even dancing behind the curtains, because a specific scene which had had some difficulties in the recent past, went exactly perfect. It was clear that the audience also liked it, as we heard them laugh at various stages of the play. The jury was also pleased with our performance and said the most beautiful words afterwards. In short, we kicked ass.
I never expected to win. I had hoped to win of course, but expecting it is an entire different thing. And after seeing the other three performances, I knew it would be very hard to outdo them. So I didn’t expect to fall apart if someone else turned out to be the winner. However, for some reason I was gutted when the jury gave their verdict. I literally was struggling not to cry. It felt so stupid. We had put on an amazing performance, why the mourning? Guess there’s quite a competor inside of me!
I think I know now why I felt that way. We have worked so hard on this play. I have spend all my time writing the scenes, we have all given up our free time for extra rehearsals and most importantly: we gave everything we had. We put our hearts in this project. Winning would be a cherry on the cake and extend the awesome rush this play had given us. But losing felt like an anvil thrown on our heads, after all this work and effort we had put into this project. I was sad that it had this effect on me. It shouldn’t have had. I wanted to celebrate the amazing performance we had and the awesomeness of everyone’s hard work. I guess that’s the downside of participating in a contest; the chance of feeling low, even after a phenomenal performance.
I’m over it now though. We have received an awesome jury report, with some great compliments and some really helpful tips. We are working on improving this play and we will perform our new, improved version in May 2016. If you’d like to come see us, please check out our website of follow us on Facebook.