BrickaBrack's Associate Artistic Director Amy Nielson sits down with Esther Van Zyl, Ensemble Member, to share stories in conjunction with our production of On the Flip Side. (Only one performance left, today at 2pm - Tickets Here!)
A: Some of the pieces in the show are incredibly personal, like “Vacant” for example - one of my favorite pieces, partly because of its genesis. It’s a wonderful collaboration. I remember brainstorming this piece for the January workshop just before you left to go back home to South Africa. We wanted a way to include you in the workshop, even though you were continents away - is that how we came up with the voicemail idea? Do you want to share a little bit about the backstory for this piece?
E: Yes, absolutely! I also love that this piece was created as a cross-continental collaboration for a show I couldn’t physically be in, but got to be a part of anyway. I remember I had actually improvised a monologue during one of our jams before I left last year, as if I was leaving a voicemail for my grandmother, whom I am named after. She had passed away and I had been unable to attend the funeral because I was in school in New York at the time. It was a huge loss for me not to be there with my family and to speak at the funeral, so I feel like when I got the opportunity to further refine this piece while I was home over Christmas holidays, it was like being able to give my gran a very personal last gift, in a way, to commemorate her life and the impact she’d made on mine. She always told me I was incredibly special, and that I was made for big things. And now, being able to be in the piece physically as well while listening to the voicemail – honestly it’s like getting to go to the funeral that I missed, in a way. It is very personal and intimate and I feel so grateful that I get to share such a special part of my life with audiences.
A: “New Zealand” is a personal piece for me. The postcard for the piece is the first bit of personal mail that I received upon moving to New York from California. So the card marks a very specific time in my life. It’s from my parents, who were on a bucket list trip to New Zealand. It was a bit of a crazy trip for them - they went just after the earthquake in Corpus Christi. They were supposed to travel by train, but most of the rails were damaged. So, they ended up having to rent a car and drive most of the trip. My mom was white-knuckled a lot of the time, and they had a very clean windshield. I’m very glad they were able to take that trip. It was a big adventure for them.
E: “A very clean windshield,” hahaha! I can relate, I STILL go for the wrong side of the car over here, even though I’ve been living in New York for almost two years now.
A: We are creatures of habit… In On the Flip Side, we have a piece called “What's your Alaska?” and it asks you to share a dream of yours - somewhere you’d like to be. Esther, what’s your Alaska?
E: Hmmm. Ok. I have a beautiful cottage-like house – you know, with knick-knacks and quirky personal items decorating the entire place in a sort of artsy, organized chaos, like a Wes Anderson set – on the outskirts of a genuine-peopled town somewhere between the woods and the sea and an hour’s drive from the city. There is a fireplace, and perhaps a kid or two running around, and my family lives close by. My mom has her own bakeshop where she serves South African desserts and other delicacies. There are spare cottages where other friends/artists can come stay whenever they like, and we can dream up and make work together. I have my own front room overlooking the beach, where I sit and write and dream up ideas and work on projects/roles until they are ready to be brought to life in the real world, and then I hop a flight with my crew to New York or Italy or wherever the film/play/other event is meant to come to life. Preferably in various extraordinary locations all over the world! What’s your Alaska, Amy?
A: My Alaska has loosely been dubbed "The Goat Farm." I want a house with a barn. But the house is actually more like a B&B and there’s a black box theatre in the barn. I want it to be a visiting artist residence—a place for artists to get away and incubate ideas. The other layer of this thing is a communal/Agriturismo idea, where the place would be incredibly self-sufficient and everyone would help out around the chateau, or haus, or villa. (In my dream, it’s somewhere abroad. My mother would prefer something more domestic…) Milk a goat, collect eggs from the chickens, bake some bread, etc… It could expand into a larger idea with guest chefs and the like. I just want a place were all my friends can share their talents and we can make theatre (or dance, or performance, or art in general…) Our Alaskas are a little similar—maybe we should combine forces!
A: I know film has a special place in your artistic heart. And I think BrickaBrack has a similar sense of whimsy to your film making style. How do you think your personal history relates to BrickaBrack’s aesthetic?
E: Since I was five I have been taking drama classes in some form or another, and I remember even the first classes were very geared towards being inspired by something, an object or story, and then being given a little time and freedom as a group to create a short piece to show the class – which is kind of exactly how all the pieces for On The Flip Side had their genesis! South African theatre, in general, is very ensemble-driven, and there is a tendency towards telling stories with our entire actors’ instrument in several styles and coming up with creative solutions to telling incredible stories instead of building large sets and solving it with money. I also come from a strong movement and dance-based background. Lastly, my personal style as a creator tends towards quirky, magical realism, which I feel is a tone and element often present in the work BrickaBrack produces.
A: I really love the imagination element. There’s something so basic and pure about it—something that feels like it goes to the roots of theatre—to make something out of nothing, to create whole worlds out of the simplest elements, transforming them and transporting your audience. For me, that’s where my histories collide. I’m trained as a dancer and an actor. As I was training, most people would choose one or the other. But I wanted a place in between. That’s why I’m drawn to artists like Pina Bausch and Robert Wilson. I think all this variety of training and experience helps me be more articulate in my storytelling. I love how each of us have unique voices as artists that come together to tell these stories. That whole idea is really the spirit of BrickaBrack. What story might we tell next? And how will we do it? We could do anything…
Musings by the BrickaBrack Ensemble