Loren Loubser is an actress who recently performed in Niqabi Ninja at The Cape Town Fringe Festival. I have been very vocal about my admiration for this powerful and necessary play. With abandon Loren performed as the title character alongside Bianca Flanders in the two-handler play. On top of being a performer, Loren along with Kelly-Eve Koopman and Kim Windvogel, has created an NPO called Femme Projects which empowers and educates young women.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
When I was little, I was asked in primary school to be part of the children’s production. I had to say this prayer and I learned the entire thing off by heart and everybody was blown away that I could know this whole monologue and open up this children’s production. I was the youngest one in the production. I said “I want to be an actress, but I want to be a clever actress. I’m going to study to become a lawyer.” When I got to grade 6 I realised how I perform in everything that I do, whether it is sports or class or people asking me something, I’m always hyperactive and I’m always performing. I said from then “I’m going to be an actress.” In high school I took drama and then everybody wanted me to study something that was going to make money. I come from a single-mother household and we don’t really have money at all. When I said I was going to university I think my mom was excited but as soon as I said acting she was like “No. There is no ways.” She wanted me to work straight out of high school to get some income but I was so set on just acting and I said “I will go and work if I don’t get into UCT.” I never applied anywhere else. I got in and my mother was immediately like “No. How are you going to make money?” But I had said “If I get in I will go.” I think once I decided I was going to act, that was it.
I know that you work very closely with Kelly-Eve Koopman. Did you meet through UCT or as you started working?
I met Kelly my first year out of UCT. We started doing a production which I feel like was the best collaboration of the female performers in Cape Town. We had Jackie Singer who is a lecturer at UCT and she co-directed it with Gabriella Pinto. It was Lesoko Seabe, Iman Isaacs, Trudy van Rooy, Kelly-Eve, myself, Mikkie-dene Le Roux, Amy Jephta, Daniyella Rodin and it was just these awesome power-heads coming together to create. It was called Bitching Hour. I feel like the production should have gone a lot further and a lot more people should have seen it. I met Kelly through that process. That was 2013. All of us stayed connected. We then started a collective called The Feminist Bookclub, which still runs. It is a crazy watzapp group that discuses everything from lipstick shades to politics and social issues to Fees Must Fall. It is also a support structure. We meet now and then and we discuss nothing about books. It’s just connecting with each other. It is a group of amazing women. Kelly and I, beyond The Feminist Bookclub, we’ve started working together for Femme Projects. It wasn’t called Femme Projects then, we were just called Femme and we worked for Transnet. We would go into the schools and hand out dignity bags which is a school bag that has got toiletries in it and it also has a menstrual cup. We started this whole thing about being pro-menstrual cup and how do we get people to be aware of what the menstrual cup is? This year, we all quit and we started Femme Projects as a non-profit. It’s just 3 of us; myself, Kelly and another performer called Kim Windvogel. We still do the project that goes into the schools, and it’s only for female learners because it is all about menstruation and their body and empowering you to feel proud of being a woman, and all the responsibilities that come with knowing your body and understanding your body. We try to make it inclusive so that it is not just about having sex with a male but experiencing other sexualities that nobody wants to talk about, everything that is taboo about being a woman we try to include in the workshops.
How are you able to get your funding for Femme Projects?
We are busy applying for funding because we have an education academic program that we want to start at the beginning of next year so we are applying through government funding and through small corporate funding. We had an interview with Mail and Guardian and the first people who reached out were our old employers from Transnet. They said “Why don’t we do the project as Femme Projects but still do it in our way and as a company and go into the schools?” We are busy with that right now and funding has come through Transnet for that specific project. We are working very tightly on budget as we can so that our next project can happen. We want to make it sustainable. We’ve employed 4 new facilitators, all women of colour, that are going into the schools so that we can build our circle and grow. Funding is probably the most difficult part because we want every project to happen but then you see how naturally expensive it is, besides for paying any salaries. It is a non-profit but it still needs to be funded in order to happen. Stuff like the menstrual cup, and feminine hygiene, are things that people automatically want to fund because it is a way of life. It’s so important right now… we don’t even have free sanitary resources or something like the menstrual cup that is sustainable. Now we get flavoured free condoms that are like smoothed and ribbed and it’s not essential. Yes, it is for HIV status and hygiene reasons but it is still promoting sex in a way. Our programs are not about abstaining because we know that teenagers are having sex and we know that there are many risks but a simple thing like menstruation is keeping people out of school and letting the female learners fall behind and drop out and take on so much responsibility. If you can disseminate condoms, you can disseminate sanitary resources. That’s why we are trying to push to get funding.
It’s a basic human right. All women should have access to it.
Our president in 2011 said that they will make it their mission to make sanitary resources available to anybody that needs sanitary resources so that young girls are not dropping out of school. There has been no act on it. And also if you drop a pack of 30 pads at a school, it lasts for one period and then what happens next month when it is done? You can’t just give out a pack of pads unless it’s going to be like a school-time supply of pads. I just think government has to step in. They’ve made the claim 5 years ago and they haven’t done anything.
A bigger conversation about it is starting to happen all over the world.
The conversation should have happened long ago.
Women have been menstruating for quite some time.
We don’t choose to menstruate. We could go on the injection and stop our period and that happens in a lot of rural communities where people don’t have the money for sanitary resources. It’s like “what can I do to stop having my period because otherwise I am going to drop out of school and I need to worry about bread and food and electricity and other things besides sanitary products.” These conversations kind of need to hurry up.
Because women are having to choose between their bodies and their education or supporting their families which men don’t have to do.
That is why I think that everything I do is coming from a feminist perspective because I think once you realise how unfair everything still is for a woman and it is 2016. There has to be a way, and it is not about fighting men and fighting what men have or breaking men down, they don’t have the same issues as us. They aren’t having to choose between education and their body and food or resources. If a young girl starts menstruating at 9 years old, she shouldn’t be prevented from living the same type of life and having the same opportunities as finishing her school year. I am not an angry feminist but I am an angry feminist.
I wanted to segue to Niqabi Ninja. What was it like to work on that piece?
We had to audition. Megan (Furniss) sent us a small section and I couldn’t exactly tell what the play was all about. I said to Megan “If I don’t get the part, can I please get the entire script?” Because I just wanted to read it and see what it was and she was like “I know this is unprofessional but I’m sure you are going to get the part so it’s fine.” We started rehearsing two weeks later and we came with so many stories. We were immediately relating it to our own experiences. I travel with public transport everywhere and everything that I was reading in the play, I was like “This sounds like Cape Town, this sounds like maybe even sometimes a nicer version of things we have heard on the streets or what we’ve experienced.” I needed to research the horrific part about the mob scenes. Once we started researching it and seeing how real it was, we spent so much time in rehearsal just talking and sharing experiences and being like “This is not ok.” It is set in Cairo but it’s a world issue. It’s a universal issue of what women have to experience and that constant checking and being aware of your surroundings and being fearful. We just have to be so aware all the time. We discussed a lot and there were scenes in the script, like the scene of being in a club and having men touching you and grabbing you and being in your space and we were like “how are we going to portray this?” And we realised that it just made sense to just keep it plain and simple. Two chairs, two actresses telling the story.
Between Niqabi Ninja and Bitching Out, is there a concerted effort for you to gravitate towards that kind of material?
It’s a bit coincidental. I am actually a comedy queen. I think that the arts does have a responsibility and I think that everybody has a responsibility but not every play is going to do that. There are those important plays that are telling those stories and that are discussing things but sometimes we need to experience things and be challenged as an artist. I did An Absolute Turkey directed by Chris Weare at Theatre on The Bay in the same year that I did Bitching Hour and I played a prostitute. It was a French comedy about people having affairs and how their stories were being told. The play had nothing to do with any social issues or a feminist point of view but it grew me as an actress and it grew my skill and my comic timing and my French accent. I do think it’s coincidental that I went from Bitching Hour to Niqabi Ninja and I am working in a feminist social work but I’ve also changed. Coming out of university very naïve, trying to impress everybody and make sure that Cape Town knows who I am and am I in the right circles, to now where I’m like “Fuck your circles.” If you see something in me and you are like “I want to work with you,” I am going to make you aware of the issues that you need to be fighting and I’m going to make the space a feminist space. I am now aware of the fights that I need to be fighting or what I need to be doing as an artist and if I am using my voice as an actress, what do I want to be saying?
What was one of your biggest challenges of creating Niqabi Ninja?
I think that we didn’t want to come across as man-hating or finger-pointing in any way. We didn’t only want to portray the man in the negative way and we didn’t want to dim the issues down because the issues need to be realistic. People need to be made aware, that if you google what was happening in Tahrir Square, you will see that we have actually portrayed it in a nicer way than what is actually happening in the streets during this time of protest. It was an opportunity for men to take full advantage of women. I think that was a challenge for us to have funny, comical, light moments, so that it is not just heavy on the audience. I think for myself, I didn’t want to be portraying a Muslim woman in a negative way by wearing a niqab and make anyone feel uncomfortable that I am now, all of a sudden, speaking Arabic and am I Muslim? Am I not? But I am in a niqab because I also know that there comes responsibility when you are going to portray any culture. Women in niqabs are still abused and harassed and portrayed as terrorists or made to feel uncomfortable just by covering up. I wanted to be aware of that and I did see that as a bit of a challenge because half of my family is Muslim and if they were watching, I would want them to feel comfortable with me portraying this. Ninjas also wear niqabs, just their eyes are shown. It was also a challenge to just be aware of how I look and what I’m wearing, I am speaking Arabic. I am telling a story of a woman in Egypt and I just wanted to do it in a sensitive way but still in a way that women can relate to it in Cape Town.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
There are different aspects of me, so there are different aspects that inspire me. I think somebody that I always ask advice from is Lesoko Seabe because when I was at varsity, she was always around. I didn’t know if she was doing her PhD or her masters but I just always saw Lesoko rehearsing, dancing and putting on shows. Then in Bitching Hour I got to work with her and she was the most caring woman. She’s just grown from strength to strength. As a voice artist if I could be anybody in the voice industry in Cape Town specifically, I’d be Lesoko. She’s also just such a go getter. Somebody that I wouldn’t expect to have inspired me would be Bonang Matheba. I got to work with her in 2013. She said that she tried out for Top Billing, I think twice. She sent them her CV all the time. She was knocking at their door all the time and they kept saying “You are not ready.” But she didn’t give up and every time I see her she is just working and pushing to get to another platform. When she was part of the Forbes list, I think she was the only black woman from South Africa, who was on the list. She just goes to open up doors for the next black woman and women in South Africa. She also told me “Don’t apologise for anything that you are. If you are proud of being that then be that and use that as your brand and the way you market yourself. Just work extremely hard.” And then my mom, she is not anything in the arts and not a performer at all. As a single mom and a coloured mom bringing up three children, she doesn’t have a matric but she also just works. Whenever I complain about something my mom is like “You have no room to complain.” It makes me aware of when I am fighting other people’s privilege, my mom still makes me aware of what I still have and what I should be grateful for. She will complain but just makes do. If my mom can do it, then I just have to shut up and do it. Lady Skollie is also one of my inspirations because she hasn’t stopped working and is unapologetic of what her art is. She just kills it on every platform. She has her sex podcast that is called Kiss and Tell. She is also just so inclusive in everything that she does. It’s not just about women, it’s also about transgender, queer, different sexualities, it’s about bodies and it’s also women of colour expressed on a platform, like art, that is being bought by predominantly white people and she is so unapologetic and just puts it out there. I’m a fan. She knows it.
Special thanks to Hannah Baker.
Cover Photo Credit: Justin Munitz