in the Category: art

Anatomie van pijn

Pain is invisible. Cartoons try to express it with an ‘ow’ surrounded by edgy speech balloons. Yet, ‘that isn’t the pain itself, it only reflects our reaction to it’, explains one of the actors performing in Lies Pauwels’ upcoming production Anatomie van pijn. The play is set in a fairy-like cartoonish world, which contrasts the reality of actors who experience pain on a daily basis. Tom and Jerry may hunt each other down, but are they ever hurt?

Interview by Milena Maenhaut
Photos shot in Ghent by Pommelien Koolen

You often base your performances on improvisation. Is that the case for Anatomie van pijn as well?

Lies Pauwels: The play is based on improvisation, which inspires me a lot. Yet I also did quite some research and wrote texts both before and after the improvisation sessions. For Anatomie van pijn I didn’t work explicitly with the stories of the actors, we tried to find other ways to express trauma and pain. I want the performers to feel free on stage. To find the collective aim of the performance, freedom is essential. At this point in our rehearsals we are doing very annoying work. We have to time every step. But the freedom will come back when we play again.

Melissa Mabesoone: The way Lies sets us free is quite uncommon in theatre. She trusts us, which makes us trust ourselves and each other.

Lies: The group is very diverse, but in improvisation they all find each other. They dare to be vulnerable and come out stronger together.

The way Lies sets us free is quite uncommon in theatre

I read in previous interviews that you use improv to pursue authenticity, the same reason why during your time at KASK you refused to let the Ghentian ‘r’ go. 

Lies: (Laughs) You have to know, at that time, (uses a rolled ‘r’ when talking) everybody had to speak very beautifully. (Laughs) It was horrible. In retrospect I regret a little that I don’t speak better, but it’s who I am. At that moment I had to go against the stream. I spoke the way I was supposed to for one year though. I was freed when Els Dottermans told me, ‘Lies, let’s finally drop the rolled “r”’.

The cast consists of professional and nonprofessional actors. How did the dynamic feel like?

Lies: The dynamics are all very different. Adjua shares a dynamic with the actors, but some people who are in physical pain have a rather slow dynamic. I wanted to work with those different energies.

Melissa: When we all got together at first it was a bit confronting. We weren’t used to each other. Now we have one energy; it moves up and down, but it’s one. 

Lies: Looking for symbiosis was a tough cookie but we all have a natural respect for each other. Not because we have to, it’s just there. That’s a layer in the performance the audience might not notice but it’s really beautiful and emotional.

Adjua, you already had some experience in theatre, I’ve heard?

Adjua Benhelima: That’s right. I did a performance with Lies: Truth or Dare, Britney or Goofy, Nacht und Nebel, Jesus Christ or Superstar.

There are masks shattered all over the rehearsal space. What is their meaning?

Lies: It contrasts with what a lot of people are really going through. 

Melissa: Cartoon characters never die. They always heal.

Olga Kunicka: They never get old either. They don’t feel pain, although they kill try to each other all the time.

Lies: That’s where the masks come from. Tom and Jerry are forever young.

Melissa: The masks remind me of the story of Dorian Grey, in which his painting changes instead of him. The masks stay the same forever while people transform underneath.

A trapezist is part of the cast too, something you wanted to become when you were young, Lies.

Lies: Who doesn’t? Hanging on a trapeze and flying through the air. I also wanted to be a dancer. And a psychiatrist. (Laughs)

Is the trapeze used to contrast the beauty of the physical body to the pain people are experiencing?

Lies: It is!

Olga: Yet the trapezist also suffers a lot.

Lies: As a gymnast Laure pushes borders. A lot of the people we are working with have to guard their limits instead of pushing them in order to protect themselves. I had interesting talks with Olga about this. She plays the violin on a very high level, which hurts a lot too. But you can’t see it. The same goes for sufferers of chronic pain: their pain is invisible. You can’t explain it either. It’s a very abstract entity.

Melissa: The word ‘ow’ for instance isn’t the pain itself, it only reflects our reaction to it.

Are we talking about both physical and mental pain?

Melissa: It’s mostly about mental pain, which expresses itself on a physical level, too. It works both ways. 

Lies: Pain can lead to a disconnection between the body and the mind. There’s a split between what your body is able to do and what your mind wants to do.

How do people with pain experience working around the subject? Does it help them to give the pain a meaning?

Adjua: It’s both confronting and a big help. There are some things I never talk about. While acting I still don’t have to talk about those things but I’m able to express them in another way. What other people do on stage and how they express their pain reflect how I feel. I get a lot out of it.

Is it hard sometimes?

Adjua: Not really, because we are always busy creating something. Some people have physical pain and for others it’s a mental thing. On stage, pain isn’t our weakness. It becomes the opposite: we use it to create something beautiful. It becomes a power, while it’s usually seen as something which only holds us back.

On stage, pain isn’t our weakness. It becomes the opposite

Melissa: As someone who doesn’t struggle with pain on a daily basis, certain things we do on stage do remind me of things that clearly touched me in my past, even though I wasn’t always aware of them. That’s confronting. Pain thus becomes a sort of common suffering, and a common beauty too. We all deal with it.

Anatomie van pijn - Lies Pauwels
13 Dec - NTGent, Ghent
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