Mirjam van Djik
Amsterdam-based theatre artiste Mirjam van Djik is in Mumbai conducting an unusual workshop at the NCPA. The twenty-five year old has a background in Music Theatre and has been creating shows using new media tools. Mirjam tells us about the NCPA workshop and gives us a glimpse of the kind of work she has been involved with and wants to do.

 By Deepa Punjani

Deepa Punjani (DP): Hello Mirjam. What brings you to Mumbai to do a workshop?

Mirjam van Dijk (MVD): At the moment I live in Amsterdam and work as a theatre maker. It happened that Devi Giannetti (an actress-singer-songwriter) used to live there too. I vaguely knew her and last summer she visited Amsterdam and invited me for a possible collaboration with the NCPA. One thing led to another, and now I am here, on the other side of the world facilitating a workshop in which Devi is assisting me.

DP: In the workshop at the NCPA, participants will create scenes based on the Greek myths of Echo and Narcissus. Why choose these stories from Greek mythology?

MVD: I choose the story of Echo and Narcissus because even though it is an ancient Greek myth, the subject is still very topical. In the story there is a nymph called Echo, who is cursed and only able to repeat the last words of what other people are saying. She falls in love with Narcissus, but Narcissus has no eye for her because he falls in love with his own reflection in the water. In this age of social media, narcissism is on the rise. For instance, the 'selfie obsession’ is a typical example of modern day narcissism and quite similar to the story of Narcissus who falls in love with his own reflection. For me, the modern translation of the Echo character is how we are trapped in these online filter bubbles. Often the things that we say and our opinions are unconsciously shaped by what is presented to us online. I want to use this as the bedrock to examine what role narcissism plays in our lives nowadays. The fact that is has to do a lot with our online social lives, allows us to easily blend new media into the performance.

DP: What tools will you be using to help your participants?

MVD: We will be using some different technical tools that are all user-friendly for artists and easy to learn. For example, we are going to work with the program “Isadora Core”, a live performance tool that makes it possible to manipulate video projections, live video streaming, simple project-mapping and a lot more. I also brought a loop station which enables us to create and manipulate live music and sounds on stage and I took a ‘Makey Makey’ with me, which is a small ‘Arduino’ keyboard that makes it possible to create music with every conductive objects like fruit, metal and even human bodies. Besides that we will work on the interdisciplinary theatre making aspect and discover how you can create a new performance out of an existing story and material.

DP: You have a background in Music Theatre. Could you elaborate on it?

MVD: I graduated at the University of Arts (ArtEZ) in the Netherlands in 2014 studying Music Theatre. During this course you learn how to make performances where music and theatre strengthen each other equally. During my studies I did my internship at the Media and Performance Laboratory in Utrecht. Unfortunately it doesn’t exist anymore, but it was an amazing place where a lot of on stage research was done according to how you can use different technologies and media in theatre performances. After my graduation I started to make performances with the theatre collective I founded together with Élénie Wagner, called AFGEFACKT. Besides that I did several other projects with artists from different disciplines, for example some virtual reality projects with the great Dutch filmmaker Ivo van Aart.

DP: The trailers of the shows on your website are suggestive of a lot of techno music and graphics. It appears that the shows you do are visual and aural with themes that your generation is concerned with. How would you define your work?

MVD: I usually work with a topical subject that fascinates me. Often I search for the humanity within the horror in this world. For example, I created a performance in which I investigated why so many serial killers received love letters and what attracts us to the dark side. With my theater collective AFGEFACKT I recently researched whether people are willing to give their lives for their fellow beings or for a higher purpose. Based on this we have created a video installation named "Hall of Heroes". Previously we made a performance about the refugee problem and the borders of our empathy. It has to be a subject that is stuck in my mind where I can’t find an answer to. Often there is no answer given in these performances, but an opportunity for the audience to think further about these topics and discuss them.

DP: There is a trailer of a show with a stripper in which virtual reality versus "reality" is spoken of. What is the premise of the show? As someone who lives in Amsterdam what is your own reaction to the hyperbole of the red light district in your city versus the reality on ground?

MVD: This project is called the “VPRO-Peepshow”, and it is set up to combine a live performance with a virtual reality experience. The ‘Peepshow’ theme is deliberately misleading. People may think that they are going to look at a sexy show based on what we know from the red light district, but in fact the experience deals with the medium itself. The viewer is forced to question what is virtual and what is real. When do the two overlap? Are you even safe wearing VR goggles? It questions the fact of watching and being watched at the same time, which is equivalent to how a peepshow works. The experience takes place in virtual reality as well as in the real world. There are live actors involved as well as virtual ones. You see and hear things, but you feel as well. Sometimes it all matches and sometimes it doesn’t. Viewers leave the peepshow confused, asking: am I still in the same “reality”?

DP: What concerns young people like you in contemporary Dutch society?

MVD: If we are talking about the arts it really concerns me that there is less and less money available for the arts in the Netherlands. In the last couple of years many big theatre companies had to quit because they didn’t get any financial support anymore. Theatre and art can be enlightening. It has the power to make complicated subjects and world problems open to discussion. Personally I think it is extremely important. Besides that we obviously share the same concerns as the rest of Europe, with the terrorist attacks becoming more frequent and closer home; we don’t know what will happen next. I think that art in all its forms can provide hope, so lets keep on making beautiful, poignant and topical art to show and talk about what’s going on in this world.

Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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