Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Ontroerend Goed: Sirens

By | Published on Friday 19 December 2014

Belgian theatre group Ontroerend Goed are renowned for their experimental and challenging pieces, which we first witnessed at that brilliant stage for outre output, the Edinburgh Fringe. ‘Sirens’ won two awards at the 2014 Festival, and received a clutch of glowing reviews.


‘Sirens’ is an exploration of feminism and the sexism women still face today, even in this day and age, when we are supposed to be all equal. It’s been written by the six women who perform the show, so I put some questions to one of them, Charlotte De Bruyne

CM: Can you tell us a bit about what happens in the show? Is there a central narrative, or is it more of a journey?
CDB: You see six women standing on stage behind music stands, because there is a sort of concert metaphor here. We deliberately wanted to depict women who dress up, get their hair done, put make up on, and look beautiful, because we all love doing that. We chose the concert metaphor because that beautiful, finished look is typical of an opera singer. We also knew we wanted to do something with shouting or screaming, which fit with the opera idea.

We try to convey, to talk about, what it means to be a woman today in western culture and a western country. We scream, we sing, we name other women we don’t like, we talk about our beauty products, we try to show you what goes on in the female brain. We see women trying to plan their day, and then go further and talk about everyday sexism, the way that women are the butt of stupid jokes; we name as many forms as we can. We address how we feel when we’re alone on the streets at night, and how it affects us. Ultimately we try to answer the problem, to work out how to deal with sexism and equality. For us, this is new feminism. It’s about being proud of being a woman.

There is both a very clear central narrative to the piece as well as a clear journey.

CM: What made you decide to do a show about feminism?
CDB: This was actually our director’s idea. He already knew that he wanted to make something with women, a sort of a celebration of female power. He said, “we have to do something about feminism” and initially the rest of the cast and I questioned how relevant it still is, but once we started talking about the issues feminism addresses, it dawned on us just how much these problems still exist. It means that a lot of women, especially Belgian women – we’re all Belgian – really do not think about these things any more, we do not really realise when sexism is working against us. This really angered us, and we had to get over that anger because we didn’t want to make an angry show. The show is focused on talking about the issues rather than being angry about them.

CM: A lot of people think that there is no need for feminism any more, and a lot of people are highly critical of it. Why do you think that for so many people, ‘feminist’ has become such a dirty word?
CDB: I think it has to do with the fact that a lot of things have changed in the past few decades. In theory, equal rights have been in place for decades already, so on paper, everything is fine. For me it’s an old story, we solved this – it’s fine.

Yet a lot of sensitive subjects are still not spoken about. Romantic relationships, between men and women. Who does the tasks at home. If you ask around there are not a lot of men who feel unsafe on the streets, it is usually women. When you start talking about these things you realise that things are not fine.

When you talk about feminism a lot of people seem to hark back to older forms of feminism – women wanting to grow their pubic hair, to burn their bras, and dress like men. It’s completely absurd; it’s beautiful what they did but for me that is not what feminism is. I love being a woman, I love dressing up, and as long as it’s my choice to do it, rather than a social rule, it is just so much fun. There is a popular caricature what a feminist is, and it’s what gives feminism a bad name. In face, everyone can call themselves feminist, men and women.

I feel that UK society is much more open to feminism, or at the least, that the movement is much more alive than it is in Belgium. I’m very happy we’re playing in London.

CM: Are you interested in ‘converting’ people to feminism?
CDB: Of course I am. I don’t need everybody to say out loud that they are a feminist, but creating awareness about this issue is important to me.

CM: Are there specific issues within feminism that the show puts more focus on, or does it present more of an overview?
CDB: We talk about all of the issues that we feel are relevant to the project, but there are a lot of high profile issues we don’t look at, pay differences for men and women, for example. We want to give people an entry to thinking about this stuff, we don’t want it to become a lecture. It is still an art form for us, and we are looking for the most beautiful ways to convey our message. The only thing that we do clearly talk about is the feeling that the base of the problem is that men are stronger than women and so they can dominate us physically. This is the only literal problem that we name because it is frightening, and will never be solved. It doesn’t have to be, but if we say it out loud then people will realize that yes, this is an issue.

CM: You wrote the show together, didn’t you? How did the collaborative process work?
CDB: We talked a lot about everything, discussed our own experiences, did a lot of research, looked at the Everyday Sexism website. We talked a lot about porn, the beauty industry, society, being raised as a girl, the difference between girls and boys toys as a child, about what we feel we have to do as women, about our households, about being mothers.

What is great about this show is that Alexander, our director, was the male ear within rehearsals. This show wouldn’t have been possible without a man. Often, in discussions, we might say that we know all about a certain thing already, but he didn’t necessarily know or understand, and asked us to spell it all out. It was very interesting to have his view on these things, and to understand that men often don’t relate to women’s issues, because they have no direct experience of them. All of the words spoken in the show were written by us though, and that was very important.

CM: The show has had an award winning run in Edinburgh. Are there plans to keep it touring, in light of that success?
CDB: We would love to tour around the whole world. We don’t know yet. The only thing we do know is that we are going to Jersey, and that we are performing in some other places in the UK. There is a lot of interested coming from the UK. You have a culture that seems very excited to listen to us and that is great.

CM: What’s next for Ontroerend Goed?
CDB: We will be premiering a new show in Gent in September 2015. ‘Are We Not Drawn Onward to a New Era?’will then tour to Australia because it is a co-production with the Adelaide Festival. We are trying to create a show about the ecological problem, which is a huge challenge, not least because we don’t want to make it depressing. We want to talk about time, and if there are things that we can still do.

‘Sirens’ is on at Soho Theatre until 4 Jan. See this page here for info and tickets.

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