Guest Post: Being a woman in the world of Viljoen

Actress and author, Emily Child is currently starring in The Eulogists at The Fugard Theatre, a play that reunites her once more with playwright Louis Viljoen. In 2015 Emily took home a Fleur du Cap award for her performance in Viljoen’s The Pervert Laura. Each Viljoen production that Emily tackles feels like a true collaboration between playwright/director and performer. While many can voice their opinions on Louis Viljoen’s writing, there is no one who understands it better than Emily Child. 

The conflict in Louis Viljoen’s writing lies in being alive, not in being  a man or a woman. 

Every character has a clear agenda. They enter each scene as they would a battle and every breath is a tactical move in a new direction. They are as capable of love as they are of murder, despite their gender.

Louis’ work is urgent. It is potent. There is no place for ego when performing his text. Actors must submit to his heightened style and leave the watching of themselves as they emote, in the dressing room. The second you can say, “this is going well” to yourself on stage, it probably isn’t. If there is time to assess your performance within a performance, you are not present and you are boring to watch. 

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Photo credit: Daniel Rutland Manners

Rehearsing a Viljoen play can be frustrating. It’s like kneading dough that never reaches the right consistency. You punch it and roll it and pull it apart and it makes your body hurt and you are exhausted and just when you think you need to start again, it bounces back in your hands and you have found the right tension. For me, this usually happens about three days before we open a show. Then the real fun starts: Intention flies back and forth between actors and it is electrifying. Our sex is not part of the equation.

When performing The Pervert Laura I was often asked “How do you feel about playing the role of a woman that was written by a man?” and “Are you not worried that a male perspective of sex and relationships was skewed to suit masculine sensibilities?” My answer was and remains – no. I believe in telling human stories. I am excited by characters who speak to each other because their lives depend on it. They exist wholly, but only in the space we see them and we must be witnesses to moments that change them. Through them, we are then altered. Louis writes all his characters this way and this inspires me. He cannot and should not be cautious of writing female characters because he is a man. 

I am never more aware of the fact that I am a woman on stage than I am of being human. Louis’ plays explore our obsessions, desires, secrets, politics, hopes and condition. The Viljoen universe is one that levels all actors, regardless of their sex. We enter the ring equal and ready to win.

The Eulogists, written by Louis Viljoen and starring Emily Child is playing at The Fugard Theatre until June 17th 2017. For tickets, click here.

To read our previous conversation with Emily, click here.

Special thanks to Christine Skinner and Emily Child.

All photos given with permission by Christine Skinner.


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