Emma Burns, the director of upcoming student play Venus in Fur, Emma Burns, “knew it had to happen” immediately after reading the enticing script. As the theatre world turns itself inside out after its own #metoo revelations, this script by David Ives puts these convulsions on the stage which often covered exploitative behaviour. For a small but dedicated team of emerging creatives, Venus in Fur seemed to be the perfect production to explore these personally intimate.
The play tells the story of Vanda, who is auditioning for a play, and won’t let the usual sexist power dynamics fly. Vanda confronts head on the demoralising sexism that female actresses often face at the will of their domineering male directors.
Meeting the cast and production team at their small rehearsal space, this dynamic is immediately visible. Vanda, played by Caitlin Williams, looms tormentingly over director Thomas, played by Zach Selmes. “What do you know about my nature except what you’ve decided about it?” Vanda queries; incessantly challenging Thomas’ every word and action as he stands tied to a pole, sexually and intellectually dominated.
It was clear that the power of this script spoke to each of the team personally. For director Burns, the play’s exploration of gendered power imbalances was an intimately resonant theme.
“I’m at a point in my life where I feel powerless in most of my interactions with people,” Burns described, “It is the foundation of gender; the way we present to the world is how we are treated.”
In particular, Burns described how director Thomas’ mansplaining in Venus in Fur was an eerily familiar theme.
“The mansplaining is something I have experienced with male directors, men in my own family and men I’ve been dating,” Burns described, “From their perspective, disagreement and having your own opinion makes you stupid, when in reality it means I just have a different perspective because of my context as a woman.”
Exploring a character like Vanda, with her dominant and powerful persona, was therefore very liberating for Burns and her dedicated two-person cast. Playing the vigorous Vanda, Caitlin Williams was excited to perform such a charismatic and exciting role; one which she described is “young and sexy and fun and powerful all wrapped into one”.
Williams applauded how the play “really subverts that entire idea of women needing to be at the mercy of men, or actor at the mercy of director”.
Also playing a strong personality, Selmes admitted he was excited to explore the “bad guy” mindset in his role as the sexist and condescending director Thomas. An aspiring director himself, Selmes noted the stark contrast between the role of Thomas as “a case study on how not to run your audition and how not to treat your actors”, and the collaborative production process fostered by director Burns.
An entirely student-led production, Burns, Williams and Selmes have approached the creative process in a collaborative manner. This collaborative process makes Venus in Fur more than a pre-packaged product delivered nightly.
“There are so many shows at the Capitol and Lyric that are a spectacle, but everyone’s kind of going through the motions and it’s almost like going to work,” Selmes described. “There’s more love in these collaborative productions, because we truly care about the show.”
During our glimpse into the production process Burns, Selmes and Williams discussed everything down to the finest details. Thoughtful discussion between cast and director showed the breadth of personality that has shaped the vivid production.
Venus in Fur will be showing at 107 Projects from April 10 - 13 and tickets can be purchased at https://events.humanitix.com.au/venus-in-fur