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Edinburgh Fringe 2022 
Interview

Carly Wijs
BOY
VENUE 26 - Summerhall - Main Hall
Aug 3-14, 16-21, 23-28 - 11:30 /  Tickets
July 19, 2022

After the highly successful Us/Them, Carly Wijs returns to Summerhall with Boy. A powerful stage show based on the true story of the Reimer family. In 1966, the Reimer twins are taken into hospital by their young parents to be circumcised. The procedure goes wrong and baby Bruce loses his penis. After consulting with Dr. Money at Johns Hopkins University, the parents agree to raise Bruce as a girl. From the age of two Bruce goes through life as Brenda. She doesn’t know the truth, but from a very young age, Brenda senses that something is just not right…

 

Hi Carly, thanks for talking to The New Current, how have you been keeping?

Good. It’s been very strange for everyone and times are uncertain, but also exciting. I try not to think too much about the difficulties and focus on the possibilities.

How does it feel to be returning to Summerhall this August with the UK Premiere of Boy?

 It is really exciting, I’m looking forward to it, but I’m also a bit scared because of last time’s success. You hope to surprise people, but you just don’t expect that kind of success to happen a second time. But I’m really happy that we were let in the building for this year’s festival. So, thank you Summerhall!

 

Us/Them won a Fringe First award in 2016 with The Guardian’s Lynn Gardiner saying “Us/Them is a very grown-up show, that defies preconceptions and questions the stories we tell about ourselves and each other.” What did it mean to you to get this type of reaction and recognition for your play?

 It was incredible because you have to realize that even in Belgium it was very difficult to convince people that it was a good idea to do a play on terrorism for eight-year-olds. Not many people believed in the project and to end up with such recognition was really a very nice experience. I was a bit overwhelmed.

But I must say that one element was lost in the Uk and in North America: we performed about a hundred times in the Anglo-Saxon world and I think maybe 40 children came to see. While on the continent it was really filled with children and their parents. And the interaction between the two was quite special. Eight year olds saw a different play than their parents. For them it was a happy end because in the end the girl got to be on TV. The fact that she was dead only hit its mark with the parents. Death is an abstract thing for an eight-year-old. Mostly, if they are lucky of course.

With Boy, we took a head start by making it a 16+ performance while actually in Belgium it is 12+. Over here people seem to be a bit more protective towards children. So, we just adapt a bit, so as not to scare you all away[MW1] …

 

What makes the Fringe so special?

The atmosphere, the accumulation of so much talent in one spot every year. The work that needs to be done to get there is incredible. I’ve done it now myself and it’s just a hell of a job. Especially after Brexit, our set is almost impossible to get across the channel. I’m still a bit worried that they will find some sort of form that is filled in the wrong way and we get sent back… Then we will just perform without a set…

But I am so looking forward to meeting other artists and talking about what people are working on and how they see the near future of Theatre. I think we have to deal with so much change as artists and it is very hard, but at the same time an opportunity to discover new ways of collaboration.

And then of course: my 95-year-old mother, Mary Kerr, was born and raised in Edinburgh and most of her family stayed here. So, it also feels like coming home a bit. She danced in the Palais de Danse when Sean Connery was a doorman. I am working on my second novel about my grandmother who came from Coldstream and who had 8 children of which 4 were born outside of wedlock… this was during the Great war. She managed to keep them all and I find that intriguing… So, I will be spending some time doing research as well…

 

What did you first discover Bruce Reimer and his parents, Janet and Ron Reimer, story?

 

Jesper Arin, one of the two male actors in the play from Teateri in Sweden had asked me if I could do a remake in Swedish of Us/Them. It sadly wasn’t possible and then he dropped the story of the Reimer Twins. They had worked with another writer but his piece turned out to be too dark. I had heard about the twins and was intrigued from the start.

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"While you are experiencing change, it is very difficult to step back and overlook what exactly is going on. But looking back it is very easy to judge the mistakes that were made. Mistakes that we are also making at this point, but that we only will be able to analyse properly in hindsight." 

Can you tell me a little bit about how Boy came about, what was it about their experience that inspired you to write Boy?

I started writing in the first lockdown. Then we had our first meeting in May 2020 and we were supposed to go to Sweden, but of course we were not allowed. So, we worked online. I had at first started out with a structure that evolved around two doctors. I didn’t want to tell the story from David’s point of view, because I felt I could never get him right. And then I slowly moved towards the parents. The people making all the decisions and like David once said about his mother: you are darned if you do and you are darned if you don’t. It was a true tragedy. By the time, I had found this structure we were again going to Sweden, but couldn’t get out of the country. And then Jesper, our Swedish actor fell ill. We wanted to postpone, but he said let’s work with a stand in actor in Belgium. I would work with them in Antwerp and he would follow the rehearsals online via zoom. That’s when Jeroen came into the picture. He is married to Vanja, so they were a bubble and could touch each other during rehearsal. We were so happy with the Jeroen version that we decided to make a Dutch version as well. So Covid really gave us all these extras that wouldn’t have happened in normal times. We premiered with Jesper and Vanja in Sweden December 2020 for an audience of eight… I will never forget that experience. It was a great success. Imagine: eight people… and Sweden was being lenient at the time.

 

Did you have any apprehensions about creating a show that also highlights a very salient contemporary social and political themes?

 

The whole gender issue is not really a political thing in Holland or Belgium. It’s just that society is changing. Some people change ahead of things and others need to follow a bit later.

Our story is really about something that happened 50 years ago and in that sense, it has nothing to do with what is happening now. 

But of course, on the other hand: it totally has. While you are experiencing change, it is very difficult to step back and overlook what exactly is going on. But looking back it is very easy to judge the mistakes that were made. Mistakes that we are also making at this point, but that we only will be able to analyse properly in hindsight.  

 

What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from this experience?

You are only as intelligent as your emotions allow you to be. Even the smartest of people can get it wrong when their emotions blur their vision.

 

With a show like Boy how flexible do you allow yourself or your actors when a show is running?

 

In the beginning, I’m not flexible at all. So, when we open in English I will be on top of it. But once they performed a couple of times I can let it go. And I’m lucky to be able to work with such great actors as Vanja Maria Godée, Jesper Arin and Jeroen Vanderven. The two latter divide the English version between them. Vanja plays all versions: English, Swedish and Dutch…

 

Where did your passion for theatre come from?

I don’t know. It was something I started doing in school. I am the only actor in my family. Both my siblings studied law… It was just something I utterly enjoyed doing and I decided to try and get into a drama-school. After you get in, it’s just a done deal. Once you start working for real, you can’t stop…unless you have to.

 

How much has your background as an actor helped you in your approach writing and directing theatre?

 

It helped a lot and my work in film and television. I also teach writing and acting in the RITCS in Brussels. I am part of a research group of the writing department that studies the changing narratives in story telling under the influence of new media. It’s mostly film scripts because we are part of a film school, but I try to get in the art of theatre-writing as well.

 

Do you have any advice, tips or suggestions you would offer anyone making their debut at the Fringe this year?

To be honest: I need tips. After Covid everything has changed so much that it sometimes feels as if I just got out of drama-school. Really; anything is possible and at the same time, nothing can be done…

 

And finally, what do you want your fringe audiences to take away from Boy?

I hope that Boy’s audience, no matter what their private opinion is, will come away from the play with a slightly expanded vision of the world. That’s what I hope. Not by telling them what to think, that would be going to church and I’m not a great fan of being told what to think. But just a compelling story about real people and by hearing about their life, it just ever so slightly changes your perspective on the world. It’s always through empathy for the other that we thrive as people.