The Sensemaker comes to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, a show about a woman trying to meet the expectations of an artificial voice. Flipping between different languages and genres of music, her movements are precise as she strains to keep her tightly orchestrated routine in time. As the voice’s demands become absurd, she has to choose between obedience and integrity. Director, Elsa Couvreur, spoke with The Fountain about the show and her plans for the Fringe.

TF: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, how exciting?  

Very, especially because the show I am bringing to this year’s Fringe, The Sensemaker, is the most personal work I ever made. I really love performing it, it is pretty challenging! I am really looking forward to share it with various audiences at the Fringe. This year will be my second Edinburgh Fringe and last year we brought not one, not two… But three different shows to Scotland: the short version of The Sensemaker, a group piece called Drop the Gogo and a duet in collaboration with Divisar-Mehdi Duman, Anchor. We performed only for ten days and even so, it was completely exhausting and there were moments when I thought we would not be able to make it. However, I still fell in love with the Edinburgh Fringe – I love how frenetic it is with all those many, many shows and how inspiring it is to see other artists from everywhere in the world. I am also really happy to have been selected again by Zoo Venues – I loved every Zoo show I saw last year and I feel honoured they chose The Sensemaker to be part of their 2019 programme.

TF: The Sensemaker certainly sounds interesting, what is the premise? 

The Sensemaker is a solo show; however it can almost be seen as a duet between a performer and a robotic voice. Have you ever waited on the phone for way too long, with repetitive music playing on a loop and an irritating voice telling you endlessly that your request is being processed? Yes, you have. We all have. And so does the protagonist of The Sensemaker until she is slowly stretched to her limits. Why is she waiting? We don’t know, but it seems to be of utmost importance to her. As the voice’s demands become more and more questionable, she has to choose between obedience and integrity. Mixing theatre and dance, this absurdist battle between a woman and an answering machine depicts what happens when a single individual struggles through bureaucracy and faces the gigantic machinery of an unjust system.

TF: And what drove the project, where did your influences lie? 

The Sensemaker has been created three times. I first created the very early parts of The Sensemaker in… 2012 for a festival called Les Quarts D’Heures at Théâtre Sévelin in Lausanne, Switzerland. This platform gives to emerging choreographers an opportunity to show a 15min work. Back then, the show was called To Make Myself Clear and was very different, an except for 4 or 5 minutes that is still the same in today’s The Sensemaker. It gave me ideas for the 30min version of The Sensemaker, that was created 5 years later, in 2017, for the Théâtre de l’Abri in Geneva. And finally, the long – and, I think, final – version of the piece, lasting one hour, has been created for the Voila!Europe Festival in London last November. So in six year’s time I certainly had a lot of different influences. I tend to like dystopias – one of the reviewers said The Sensemaker looked like an episode of Black Mirror live on stage, which is a pretty flattering comparison – as well as theatre of the absurd like Beckett and Kafka. Most of all, I am such a typical millennial – I just love gifs, memes and pop culture, and I dropped a lot of inside jokes in The Sensemaker.

Also, even though I live in Switzerland, I am originally from Belgium. Having lived in two multilingual countries, it was natural for me to have different languages in this piece, however English remains the main one. And finally, the plot is inspired by Milgram’s experiment, where a volunteer had to administrate electric shocks to another person. I find that experiment fascinating – we can so easily find ourselves to obey to an unjust authority.

TF: What are your plans for the Fringe, having been before are there any tips or musts you would offer to first-time performers? 

What comes to my mind at first: try to get some good night sleep, eat healthy, don’t over work. Take care of yourself. Don’t drink too much. The Edinburgh Fringe is very intense and you will need all your energy. But also, watch as many shows as you can, especially free shows, and especially shows you would normally not go and see.  Enjoy every time you perform, even if there are only a few audience members – which will likely happen if you’re a first-timer.  I personally really want to see Hot Brown Honey for the empowerment, Shitfaced Shakespeare because I like silly stuff, as much as I can see from the Zoo programme, and random shows I never heard about.

TF: And what are your future plans beyond The Sensemaker

I am co-directing the collective Woman’s Move with my colleague Iona D’Annuzio. We don’t create any work together, but we do support each other artistically and administratively. We would love to tour the shows we already have as much as we can. After the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, The Sensemaker will be performed at the Gothenburg Fringe, the Stockholm Fringe, the Lahti Fringe and the Istanbul Fringe – very excited about that as well – and also at the Théâtre du Pommier in Neuchâtel, Switzerland and the European Cabaret Competition Niederstätter surPrize in Bolzano, Italy. Maybe this year’s Edinburgh Fringe will give us a few more opportunities, finger crossed! We do not plan on creating new work before 2020 though, but we certainly have some ideas of what will come next : a duet and another group piece, but that will be a story for the next episode!

You can see The Sensemaker at Zoo Venues, Playground 1 from 2nd – 26th August (Not Wednesdays) at 15:15. For tickets, please visit www.edfringe.com