A story in different layers and levels

We meet Sylvie Landuyt on a dull autumn day in Brussels. Early in 2018, her new production Do You Wanna Play With Me? premieres at KVS. Sylvie says that the experience of meaninglessness will play a central role in her production, as will the question of how you fill that void.

Sylvie was inspired by Wedekind’s Spring Awakening to tell a family story in which social media and internet porn bring tension to relationships. At night the youngsters, like their parents, hide away in a virtual world full of explicit language and images. ‘I sketch a picture of a mother, a daughter and a son. The mother is addicted to the internet and scours dating sites. Her introvert teenage daughter emulates her and online becomes an almost lustful sexual being full of self-confidence. The son becomes addicted to internet porn and is ruined by self-hatred.

In essence, the performance presents a fairly classic story about a single parent family. However, you give shape to your characters in a much more abstract way, don’t you?

Sylvie: ‘That’s right. In the play we also introduce the generation of the future, represented by Artificial Intelligence. This fourth role stems from the children’s longing for an ideal mother. I work with abstract elements because I prefer not to work with characters, but with images and archetypes. When I write, it's more about sounds than characters who are linear and complete. I create ‘post-drama’ in which words and sentences can be exchanged between the actors. This also means that the beliefs and actions of the characters are interchangeable. If the son wants to kill his mother’s lovers, that’s something that can also be taken over by the daughter.

During the performance, I want the social media to be present on stage through projections. The audience must be able to respond and ‘like’ it. It may even take on a documentary character in which we show search histories in combination with the testimonies of young people I have collected. In addition, I want to evoke a Japanese manga atmosphere, with bad pop music and images from pop culture, though that’s definitely not the only musical inspiration. I like telling a story in different layers and levels. The text, sounds, images and archetypes intersect and refer to each other.’

The research consists in part of conversations you initiate with young people about the internet and how they deal with sexuality. 

Sylvie: ‘The archetype of the son is not finished yet and I want to develop him further based on what adolescents tell me. I also want to check my work with them to make sure my analysis is correct. That is why we will shortly launch week-long workshops in which, through artistic exercises with young people, we will deal with themes such as virtual encounters, internet pornography and the perception of sexuality. I think it’s important to know what these digital natives’ relationship with the internet is like.’

‘I came across the subject through the conversations I had with youngsters following my production Don Juan Addiction. I noticed then how much they are involved with online pornography. They sometimes have a highly distorted image of sexuality. I met boys who said they loved a girl, but didn’t want to have sex with her because sex was dirty. They are used to images of the most explicit sexual acts. They know about things I’ve never heard of (laughs). On the one hand, they talk about sex in a way that is coarse and indifferent, while on the other hand they are very prudish or looking for true love. You notice that they may chat about it very openly, but when it becomes ‘live’ they are barely able to communicate. I think it is important that we talk about it. You cannot ignore something like this.’

A certain degree of social commitment is very much a part of you, isn’t it?

Sylvie: ‘At the beginning of my career, I made a point of working with both professionals and amateurs. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and so moved into the city or worked in community centres. On each occasion I compared different social environments on stage. In these participative projects I was more often moved by the amateurs and their stories than by the professionals. But at that time I was angry with everything and everyone, and used a method on stage in which I looked for contradictions and allowed them to clash with one another. Since then I have increasingly been trying to find a certain harmony in my productions. But the utopia of the meeting remains central to me. I still want my productions to bring people closer together.’

‘I'm fascinated by psychoanalysis and I believe that the best way to get to know myself better is to look at others. Through my productions, I secretly hope that people will recognise themselves in what is happening on stage, so that they learn to understand themselves better and so become more understanding towards others. That’s my wish: that people talk to one another and learn how to accept each other’s differences. In Do You Wanna Play With Me?, I deliberately do not pass moral judgment. However, I want to understand our society better through this theme. But I also know that it’s an illusion to think you can bring about a major social revolution through the performing arts.’

Images: © Danny Willems