‘What’s going on here?’ | Ruth Borg

Currently studying mime in Amsterdam, actress Ruth Borg will be making a temporary pitstop back to the home island to perform a piece informed by her first year of academic work. TEODOR RELJIC speaks to the actress about the associations people have with mime, and the various elements that make up Ġina, her debut solo show

First of all, could you describe your experience of studying Mime in Amsterdam? How is this process helping you expand your horizons, and what are you learning there that you wouldn’t have picked up in Malta?

As my first year of this four-year degree in Mime comes to an end, I can say that I am nothing short of blissful that I decided to embark on this journey. Just for clarification’s sake, I am not doing pantomime. Therefore, the course does not involve wearing a black and white striped t-shirt and pretending to be stuck behind a window.

The course is a physically-engaging education where we are encouraged to use our bodies as an instrument and as an entrance for creating theatrical material. I always loved dance but also acting and mime is a perfect place for me to merge these two worlds.

In Malta, I had only touched the tip of the iceberg in creating this fusion so I thought how can I delve deeper? I felt that here I had exhausted all possibilities of training. I also always felt that here the text is always the first priority, like a divinity. Although I love the written word I still believe that the power to transcend language is one of the most beautiful qualities we possess as humans. With this in mind, it was necessary for me to move abroad to receive more tools on how I can do this.

How well-represented would you say mime is in the popular imagination? Would you say that the general public, as well as the more specialised
theatre-going crowd, understands the intricacies and potential of this art form? If not, why not?

I would say that in the popular imagination and also among the more artistic crowd, mime is still perceived as the art form of no speech where a lot of pretending is involved. You pretend that there is a rope and you walk the rope. I must admit that if I was not doing this degree, probably I would also think something along those lines. Because when you say mime you have to instantly think of Mr Bean, or the silent movies or Marcelle Marceau. The mime is also that, but not only.

There is more potential in this art form because the body offers a stream of possibilities. You cannot lie with the body. We can use language to lie and manipulate, but with the body it’s hard to do this. The body is very instinctual; our heart races when we’re in love, we get red when we’re shy, we sweat or fidget when we’re tense, and so on... Yet I think there are conservative views of what is the mime form  because people are not exposed to it.

I do not refer only to the Maltese crowd because I also got perplexed looks in Amsterdam when, for example, I say we are doing a mime performance. To me, the fact that people do not know what it is exactly, or the fact that it is hard to pin down, makes the craft mysterious. And this is why I want to pursue it!

What were some of the initial ideas that led to the creation of ‘Gina’? Were there particular formal or thematic elements that you wanted to explore?

Before going into the studio to work I had to hand in the concept for my solo to the artistic leader of the mime. I was very fascinated by the book ‘A Lover’s Discourse’ by Roland Barthes and thought I wanted to create something related to it. But when I went into the studio I was not always creating material that was related to this concept which I had written myself. I started noticing that some scenes or material were just pouring out of me. For example using props in an odd and illogical manner was not something I said “Ah! I want to experiment with using props illogically to see what that gives me” but more something that just occurred naturally in the creative process. As I started working I started becoming more attentive to what was pouring out of me naturally. What is the source of this? I thought that if I find the answer to that question I will get to somewhere authentic and which truly matters to me. And from there I could expand my ideas further.

“The power to transcend language is one of the most beautiful qualities we possess as humans”

Do you view the piece as being primarily of didactic and educational relevance, or do you think it stands on its own as an independent piece of mime? What do you hope local audiences will get out of it?

It’s an independent piece of theatre that seeks not to give answers to its audience. Audiences are not interested in answers. When we have the answer to something then quickly, everything becomes boring. It is what it is. There is no reason to question or investigate anymore. When we look at Ġina we cannot help but ask “What’s going on here?”. I think our local theatre should have more work which makes us ask this question. Work that instigates us to think critically and not only provide us with one narrative after the other. In activating audiences in the theatre, I hope that in time, they will be encouraged to also question and investigate other things, like the political state of the country.

What do you make of the local performing arts scene? What would you change about it?

First of all, it fills me with hope and excitement to know that quite a good number of the performers of my generation are studying abroad full-time. I really think that it’s fantastic. They want to learn their craft professionally and to master it by training every day at a conservatory. As they study they are also being exposed to a lot of performances from renowned artists or perhaps to offbeat and experimental works abroad. I think all this will enrich the theatre industry in Malta with more expertise and less amateurism. Not that there is anything wrong with amateurism but I don’t think it’s healthy to not have that balanced out with professionalism. The local performing arts scene is growing and evolving. Giant steps are being taken.

Yet I still think there is a huge lack of professionals in it. By professionals I do not only mean those who do their art as a full-time profession but also to those who work with discipline within it. Discipline distinguishes the amateurs who play for fun and when they feel like it from those who are professional and turn up everyday even when they have a thousand excuses not to do so.

The professionals are those who have also studied their craft with discipline. The lack of this discipline in general is reflected in the work presented to our audiences in my opinion. We can now go onto discussing whether this is feasible financially for the peformer or if there is a big enough market for theatre in Malta for this to happen. Yet the idealist in me believes that if we give more quality theatre to our local audiences they will come back again and again thirsting for more.

What’s next for you?

After ‘Ġina’ I will be performing in a production with Teatru Malta. I look forward to working with our national theatre and to being in a studio with other performers again (it can get quite lonely rehearsing on your own... excluding visits from the wonderful dramaturg Chris Galea!). After that I will be back in Amsterdam for my second year of the mime. In the middle of all this though I intend to squeeze in some swimming and reading. Strawberry mojitos are also welcome!

 

Ġina will be performed at Junior College, Msida on August 3 to 5 at 19:30 and 21:00. Spaces are limited to early booking is recommended. Bookings:

https://shop.trackagescheme.com/event/gina-theatre-performance-ruth-borg/

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