Is she speaking to me, or not? I’m not sure anymore
Jesse Vandamme graduated from KASK in the summer of 2021 with his works Scènes and Giants as proud accomplishments to look back on. His new work Solipsists is scheduled to premiere at GIF: Ghent International Festival. Dealing with the topic of solipsism, each of the solos deals with various topics, from gaze and objectification to data and chaos. Jesse walks us through his upcoming premiere, his transition from KASK, his future projects and his collective Werktoneel.
Why the topic of solipsism?
Somehow in your experience, there is a part that you can share with people. But there is always this bigger part in which you act that feels quite solitary – that you are not sure if people really understand what you are saying.
I tend to really like looking at these solo figures that are figuring it out
Even sometimes the audience feels like they don’t exist; someone is speaking to them but they don’t really know if they are speaking with them. Is he hidden in himself or is he going at me? Is she speaking to me, or not? I’m not sure anymore. In theatre, you can make up this world that seems real for a while, but it disappears again a second later – the whole creation of a world as well.
I like when the solos are a bit covered in mystery when they keep a bit of a distance between you and the audience. The specific topics get more defined - the first solo might be more about the gaze and claiming the body in contrast to objectification, for example.
Is there a sort of essence that carries on from your work at KASK?
I’m always working with the same people, and I like it that way. It’s also about developing a practice, of understanding each other, of what approaches and questions come up. So it’s starting to feel more like this. I’ve worked with all of them during my time at KASK. It also feels like an in-between. I hope all the work I do feels like an in-between. You look for them a bit in the solo we are doing, then you take the material and you go with it to another project.
How does it feel to transition from that sphere of KASK to this world you find yourself in now?
When I first was asked to do some stuff here at NTGent, I was stressed out. I had this imposter feeling; you’re coming into a new arena. You get a stage, you get support and it’s a pretty big group of people that support you as well. Once you get to know the structure, you know you are just one of the pieces of this system that is moving.
In the beginning, it felt special because for a long time you’ve been on a trajectory that might lead somewhere – it’s a place you’ve been dreaming about. Part of it is dreamlike because a part of it is a fantasy. You always have this imagined thing that you put your drive towards - when you do pieces that you’re really proud of but nobody sees them. When you’re working your ass off for something, it’s also nice deep down – one day we will really find an audience and we’re really gonna do something.
What are those deeper things that drive you to keep going to keep creating?
It can be avoiding pain, avoiding misery. On good days, it’s more about the books and thoughts and people I work with, the performances that I am curious about. Getting the feeling that there are so many questions, and the hint of something that it translates into an aesthetic and the power it has - right then it can operate as poetry, as a metaphor or as a condensed experience. Some books have been driving me that go a long way, and they will also be there in the coming years. There are some authors that have been with me for a long time: I’ll likely use one of them in a repertoire.
The text acts in your life and your life acts in the text
Tell me a bit about Werktoneel. What upcoming projects can we expect?
We’re going to go on tour in the Netherlands with Scènes and we’re finding our way there. We might play it here in Ghent as well if Covid allows it. We have another project with a working title which will probably be an attempt to connect our practice with the theory that I’m reading and a specific author. We’re not even sure which author; I’ll be doing a research project to determine that. That’s what I can tell you now.
I try to grow with the performer towards the finished piece
Who exactly is a part of your theatre group, Werktoneel?
I had the feeling that I wanted to gather all the things I was doing, in a certain way. It feels nice to give ourselves a name – myself, Lucie Plasschaert, Joeri Happel, Louise Bergez, Lucas van der Vegt and Laurens Aneca. That’s the group now - it can always expand. It’s a bit of a tricky name because I used it to collect all the work I was doing together with the people I mentioned.