Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Seldom Make History
A shameless ode to desolate puppy-love in all its mundane, absurdist glory, featuring toads, sperm-banks and carrots. A tragicomic theatre monologue by Verona Verbakel, intended to make people laugh with her misery, although also aiming to bring light to patriarchal stereotypes, dangerous gender role-patterns, and the loneliness of dating. Explicit language. Based on true events.
Hi Verona thank you for taking the time to talk with The New Current, how does it feel to be heading to Edinburgh Fringe & C Venues, C piccolo this summer?
Thank you for this talk! It feels very exciting, I’ve performed a couple of times with Ontroerend Goed before at the EdFringe and to finally be able to bring my own show “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History” to the stage is mind-boggling to me. I’m so grateful I get to do this.
Will there be many nerves ahead of the fringe?
I get sweaty armpits thinking about it, even though “nerves” might not be the right term. It’s more so: I’m excited and ready, bring it on!
What does Edinburgh Fringe mean to you and what have been the most challenging aspect of bringing Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History to the festival?
The Edinburgh Fringe is a festival that celebrates thought-provoking works of art, which I love. Therefore, it is not solely essential to my profession but also to who I am as a person. It’s important to keep demonstrating: art can bring people closer together and doesn’t need to be some sort of niche product. The EdFringe proves that there’s something for every theatre/performance lover out there.
The most challenging part of bringing my show to the festival was perhaps deciding –since it’s based on true events- how far I’d go to make the show humorous and how authentic I wanted to stay with the events that inspired the show. Or, has perhaps nothing to do with performing whatsoever, making sure the paperwork is in order, that I have a place to stay, that the poster doesn’t have any typos and where I will get some fish and chips for an entire month (please send recommendations my way!). I think once I’ll arrive at my venue, I’ll be like: “Oh, finally, the easy part: performing!”
You’re a graduate of the Royal Conservatory Antwerp Belgium, what has your experience been like at the school and what has been your biggest take away from it?
There are so many ways to answer that question… I think the movie Whiplash comes close to my experience with the school and how it was managed at the time. Being taught by the greatest acting icons you can image was such a gift and at the same time, it was also a time of confusion and self-doubt. Every year they allowed me to continue the education, I was like: “Oh thank God, they’re giving me another year” It felt like being on a game show where the prize was… self-discovery.
I think it taught me that you should live a full life, you can’t put your life on hold just because you’re doing a certain artistic project or you’re awaiting the feedback of a casting.
Can you tell me how Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History came about, what was the inspiration behind your play?
Self-reflection! I thought about how absurd my coming-of-age and its correlating past relationships sounded, an ex who celebrated his 18th birthday by donating his sperm for example… or an ex who shamed me for having a small chest or that time when a strange man drove me to a sex hotel in the middle of the night. I think it was necessary to regain some power over previous experiences by reframing the narrative from a grim to a positive one, moulding it into a tragicomic theatre monologue where people are allowed to laugh at my misery, one that I’m in charge of, regardless of how disturbing reality was. I purposefully keep the show as light as possible.
As a writer and actor what are the biggest difference you have experienced performing Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History in English & Dutch?
The Dutch, shorter try-outs of the show haven’t taken place yet, so I can’t tell you about the difference in performing yet. But I remember the difference, back in the day, between Flemish and English audiences with theatre show Sirens from OG, which was also a feminist piece. The Flemish were very reserved and only dared to tell me their experiences via email. The English audience immediately came up to me after the show, asked whether they could give me a hug and told me their horrifying experiences in person. Both types are daring examples: I’d say the English didn’t care as much who was eavesdropping or what someone else would think of them or their reaction to what they had been through. And I’ve always loved that outpouring honesty, maybe that’s why I love performing in the UK so much.
Did you have any apprehension about creating a show that took from you own life and experience?
Of course, you’re putting yourself out there, even more so than when you’re acting in someone else’s play as you can still hide behind the sentence: “Well, the director wanted it that way” or “I’m just playing a part” or you can even put on a costume and tell yourself it’s not fully you.
In this case, there’s no hiding. Though, to answer your question: not really, because it is very much based on my life, but also, curated by me. I’ve decided to highlight the absurd parts, when reality is always much more grim. I think the only part where I feel fragile in the performance is when I talk about getting bullied in school and my mother’s reaction to it. It’s just a little sentence but it does feel a bit daring to involve my mother in the piece, even though I secretly think she enjoys it. Plus, she deserves to be included after that farce-like reaction! The rest of it is just fun and games.
Was it cathartic in away?
Very much. It makes you realize how everything in life is just a matter of perspective, how you frame these instances in your head and how you judge yourself (preferably not) in a particular, past situation. I can now look back, almost forgetting these occurrences happened and immediately counter them by saying: “Oh well, I’m glad I’m no longer in that position.”
Will you give yourselves much flexibility with your play once your play is running or are you going to stick to what you’ve planned?
It’s pretty much mapped out. I’m not suddenly going to include fireworks in the performance to get the Deus ex Machina effect. Depending on the audience, I might add some things here and there, but no worries, I’m not going to make it a participative show where I ask for input from the audience.
"That failure was my fuel to really nail my entrance exam at conservatory. So, if all else fails: prepare and know your lines."
What does Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History say about you as a writer/performer?
Oh, I’m sure Freud would have his hands full with me in the attempt of answering this question…
I think it shows that at the end of the day, I can laugh with my own past misery. And I hope, somehow, some young people see the show so they can learn from my mistakes instead of making them themselves. In fact, I wouldn’t call them mistakes anymore, it’s just… the farce that’s been my past coming-of-age, puppy love experience. Any naive girl can –purely hypothetically- fall in love with a drug dealer, no?
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
Well, my sister and I started in musical because our single mother wanted her Saturday-afternoon “off” to go grocery shopping. My sister got in, but I didn’t. She bargained with the company that she’d only attend the classes if her sister was allowed in as well and that’s where I discovered my passion for acting. Then, a #metoo-thing happened and quit musical for good. I auditioned for a youth theatre collective in Ghent and I was asked to replace an actress for the world tour of “Once and for all we’re gonna tell you who we are so shut up and listen” which won several prizes at the EdFringe. The rest is history, as they say.
Are there any other themes or subjects you’re looking forward to exploring with future productions?
Absolutely! I’m thinking about making a part two of the show, which will be a lot less innocent than this one, but still in the comedic realm and also another project based on true experiences, but that will purely be under theatre. There’s no way I could turn that topic into something comedic.
Do you have any advice, tips or suggestions you would offer anyone wanting to get into theatre?
I think you need to get comfortable with really falling flat on your face. I remember, back in the day, there was this performance-contest for youngsters and my lazy ass just went on stage, reading my lines off a piece of paper. Can you imagine actually being that arrogant? I get raw chills thinking about it. That failure was my fuel to really nail my entrance exam at conservatory. So, if all else fails: prepare and know your lines.
As more general advice my mother always used to say: “I don’t care what you do, as long as you’re happy doing it.” That, and: “If you do something, do it well!”
And finally, what do you want your fringe audiences to take away from Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History?
I’m not a preacher, so if people want to take away it’s a funny show performed by a funny person, great. However, I’m sure there will be people in the audience who will recognise feeling trapped in a toxic relationship, the pitfalls of gender roles, specific behaviours from the people described that also made them feel worthless, used or less-than to stroke their partner’s ego, who’ll recognise the absurd concept of virginity in our society and the occasional loneliness of dating. To those, I want to give a big hug with my show, to let them know, you’re not alone, I know what it was like and in the end, I’ve decided to laugh with it instead of dragging those vengeful emotions with me. It was time for me to let it go. It’s everyone at their own pace, so I hope to spread that message by a humorous show about the absurdity of my coming-of-age.
I just want people to have a great evening and think: “Wow, that girl should do a world tour or something!” I’m ready!