INTERVIEW: Venus in Fur
Interview with the Director and Cast of Venus In Fur
Left to right: Caitlin Williams, Emma Burns, Zach Selmes
By Lara Franzi
Young Director Emma Burns brings a unique production of Venus In Fur, a 21st century play written by David Ives, to the stage at 107 Projects. It’s a play within a play, following the audition of Wanda for the role of an impossible woman. Caitlin Williams and Zach Selmes play a strong duo fearless in representing our current social issues of gender expectations. I was lucky enough to catch up with the director and cast before their upcoming premiere at 107 Projects.
LF: When did you first hear about David Ives play ‘Venus in Fur’?
Emma Burns (Director): I was surfing the internet for top twenty plays of the 21st century and I found it. I thought, this sounds pretty cool, so I ordered it and read it. And I just screamed when I finished it – I do this thing where I bite a book, often it means I hate it. It’s just a weird response. But this was one where I was just biting it, I loved it so much. I bit the book. I was so excited that I just wanted to rip into this, literally.
You were quite frustrated by the play?
EB: Oh yeah. It’s not my life, but it’s something I’ve experienced on a few occasions in various different scenarios. It spoke to me on so many levels.
What are you doing uniquely in your production of this play?
EB: We are a distinctly young group of people. I think we bring our youth to it; Wanda is supposed to be 24, and we can bring a young perspective on what it’s like to be in this demographic.
Caitlin Williams (Wanda): I think it’s also a very different portrayal of Thomas. Zach – I love you – but you’re not the most macho man. And I think Thomas often gets portrayed as that hyper masculine male. That’s also the power play that is brought into this, and I like that - I think it’s a really fun element.
Zach Selmes (Thomas): I think it speaks to that over-confidence that young men are raised with. RE: toxic masculinity, even if you’re not the biggest toughest boy on the playground you are still raised with a sense that ‘I can handle myself’, and that ‘I have the right to assert it in a public forum’. It speaks more to the psychological side of Thomas than the men.
Having a play within a play - where do you start? Do you create each of your characters separately or think of them as one?
EB: I definitely thought that initially they were very two very distinct characters, but as we’ve been going on there’s much more of these two players, that they're almost a mirror of one another.
CW: They're definitely running parallel a lot of the time. I think the good thing we’ve done is sitting down and trying to work out what the character within the character is thinking, what her goals are, what her background is, what her motives are. [...] The fun for the audience is trying to work out what is reality and what is fantasy.
ZS: It’s just as hard for the audience as it is for us. We’ve got certain points of clear definition in the way the play is written, but at the same time we’ll stop and be like - wait is this Kushemski speaking or is this Thomas speaking here? - then it lets us explore other things that are happening.
The old book tale says that ‘Men are from mars, and women are from Venus’. Do you believe that it is so difficult for us to understand what we want from each other?
EB: I certainly don’t believe it’s something were born with. I think it’s socialised into us. I myself had a fight earlier this week with my brother. He is moving back home and he didn’t realise how his incredibly invasive behaviours would be something that we wouldn’t want to live with anymore. I think there are certain things that men are socialised to believe, by being raised in a world where they have a sense of priority about themselves, that they can enter a space, put their stuff down and move other people and put themselves in a prime position without a care for the sensibilities of others. And I think that’s something women are trained to be mindful of, constantly thinking of the needs of others and thinking about other people's space.
What do you think this play is saying to men?
EB: A lot.
CW: Six years down the track [since the play's release], I really hope society is changing. I think part of what it is saying is, don’t make those judgement calls on women, don’t make a judgement call on women’s attraction to you in any situation because you just never know where you’re going to end up.
ZS: I think [...] men then get very defensive these days, like they feel they're under attack about all this toxic masculinity - and they’re not willing to take a second to listen that it’s not an attack on them but on the structures that have created this problem.
Is performing the role of Wanda quite confronting?
CW: A part of why I got excited about this role [...] was because I often struggled with my self confidence and I thought this was a role where I’m going to need to find my own self confidence and I’m going to need to build myself up to walk out on stage and feel good about myself. The challenge has been knowing that I can’t get that from other people, I have to almost not care and just be happy in myself and walk out and think I look fantastic - Because Wanda is a character with so much confidence that I can’t play her and not have any in myself.
ZS: I also think its enhanced by the fact the costumes aren’t just risqué for the sake of being risqué. So, for us on the performing end of it, it’s not about going out there and looking good, but about the character having the confidence to be that way for the other characters.
EB: It’s also a critique on the power dynamics of why you need to be naked on stage, why female nudity in particular is necessary.
CW: Women are often asked to dress down and show off and it’s not the same standard for male nudity, it doesn’t happen as often.
Do you have a favourite line of dialogue?
CW: My favourite line, which is also a really good summary of the power dynamic, is ‘what do you know about my nature, besides what you’ve decided about it?’. That speaks a lot about what goes on in the play within a play.
ZS: I like that little section where Thomas reveals under the shell about why he thinks he wrote this story, and saying how it’s about people having out sized emotions or erratic emotions you don’t normally get in life. It’s a small insight into how he's standoffish and it’s the most realist moment of artistic integrity. But his artistic integrity is somewhere buried underneath his ingrained misogyny.
CW: It’s wafer thin.
What’s one reason you want people to see this show?
CW: I think for me it’s that you’re going to have fun, it’s a fun play, but you’re also going to think. You have to think about things that we used to consider a necessary evil, like the casting couch -I remember my grandparents warning me about the casting couch. This is a play that says it’s really not okay anymore.
EB: If anyone is looking to take on a new perspective about gender relations, because it’s a complex case and it’s a discussion I think more than anything else.
ZS: I’m going to quote one of the original actors from the Broadway production and I think they said ‘when you come home from this piece your either going to have the best sex of your life or breakup with your partner.’ So, either way you’re going to have an eventful night.
EB: That’s the kind of intensity this show is, just for the intensity – come along.