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Bye Bye World at the Amsterdam Festival

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Amsterdam 2011, September 10th. You can feel the expectant tension in the fully packed theatre. People are dancing on rollerblades. The giant pink Amsterdam Fringe logo decorates the stage, and the booze is oozing. The Award Show.

We've just finished our last performance, and avoid entering this place for as long as possible.

"We're not in the Jury's recommendations."
"No?"
"Oh..."
"Absurd!"
"We might come up short."
"It's hopeless, I feel it."

Still I quickly move my hand through my hair.
Have I got something between my teeth?

"Will you watch my bag... if, well, you never know... just in case..."

Too nervous.

"And the winner is... Bye bye world!"

Really?

That's us?
That's us!

It truly was unexpected.
For the making of this play had been a drama in itself.

For weeks we had gathered in the kitchen of our director Marjolein Frijling who, at that time, lived in an abandoned monastery, next to the Red Light District. There we worked on our performance about two women who decide to break free from their everyday lives, and imprison themselves in a basement. The two women would spent their days in this leaking, moist place, living without the light of day. Nevertheless they had to experience this as something positive. A late-capitalist, post-feminist critic on Beckett. You see?

Well, we didn't. What could they possibly do in that basement? Every night Vera cycled home to try to write some kind of a script. Every day in stronger winds. We were talking, improvising, trying to play the text. Reaching the point of mixing meditation and fantasy, with one of the characters starting to talk French with her dead mother, and the Second World War started to play a crucial role, we somehow felt we were on a dead end road. We cycled home. Feeling terrible. This would become our first real disaster.

Precisely one week before our premiere we figured it out. The performance had to tell about why these two women want to disappear so desperately. Why! There we were, four women, happy as children as if we discovered some kind of a magical box that contained all the answers of our imaginative world.

From that moment on, the train started running, full speed ahead. Of course. It had to. Time was ticking. Director Marjolein drove her small herd trough the field of improvisation. All that was good, ended up in the performance. At night, Vera wrote down what was discovered during the day. There was no time to wonder whether it made any sense at all. Luckily, more material from our "desperate days in crisis" turned out to be useful then we had thought. But with the difference that now we knew exactly what it was about and what it should look like.
A set was built in two days before the premiere - and thrown away the next day. We hardly slept. The lighting plan was abandoned. It had to be sober. Sober! Even more sober.

Finally the big day arrived. Acting creates a certain amount of stress, which is natural, perhaps even necessary. You have to trust on everything that is rehearsed and then let everything go on stage. That is rather demanding on one's nerves. But this night was truly nerve wrecking! It was the first time we went through the whole play in its latest changed-that-very-afternoon incarnation, and seventy people were there to witness. Well. Nervewrecking, like I said.

We had absolutely no idea how it went when we walked off stage. 45 minutes had passed by, no one had thrown tomatoes to us, no one had boo'd, we only dried once. We wanted to disappear in a fug of cigarette smoke. But the audience stopped us with their reactions.

There was a beautiful English woman who hadn't understand a word of it, but who was nevertheless touched. With tears in her eyes she said "This is the saddest piece I have ever seen". Someone else had recognized herself in one of the characters; she had been through exactly the same. And there was a guy who knew for certain after seeing the show: he'd do a complete volte face.. This was the day from which he would do everything differently. There were also men (mostly men), who couldn't relate to it at all.

We kept refining the text in order to blow away these men also... as much as possible. The most sceptical men kept talking about the lighting plan (what lighting plan?), but there were some who even showed some emotion.

And there she was, standing in the spotlight, holding a closed envelope. The this-is-the-saddest-piece-I-have-ever-seen-woman. She happened to be the head of the jury. She opened the envelope. I can tell you one thing. We were the happiest people you had ever seen.

Next week: Bye bye world's first international experience: Australia.

[Written by: Anne Gehring & Vera Ketelaars]