What makes a home for you? Victor Esses is Jewish-Lebanese, Brazilian and gay. In 1975, Victor’s mother flees Lebanon as a refugee of the civil war. In 2017, Victor visits Lebanon for the first time. In 2018, amidst the elections that will see Brazil choose a far-right president, he travels from London to São Paulo to show his partner his childhood city. Where to Belong is the tender, moving story of these journeys, and is at the Edinburgh Fringe for the month of August. Victor spoke with The Fountain about the show and the influences behind it.
TF: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, how exciting?
It’s so exciting to be performing at the Fringe at Summerhall for the entire season and also being part of Ellie Keel Productions’ queer season, alongside so many brilliant artists in both contexts. I’m looking forward to showing the piece to people from all around the world, having conversations with audiences, hanging out with peers and meeting new artists. The Fringe is a big party and how could it not be exciting? – but also very hard work of course.
TF: Where to Belong certainly sounds intriguing, what is the premise?
Where to Belong started at a time when I felt that I needed to look more inwards and understand my different identities. It is a show in which I invite the audience into my rehearsal studio to talk about home and identity, while I tell them stories of growing up in Brazil, being part of the Jewish community and moving to the UK at the age of 18, I ask them about their childhood feelings, their favourite food, and with this they help me tell mine and their stories. It all started when I went to Beirut my parents’ hometown, for the first time and realised that the middle eastern identity was also a huge part of me. I speak of war, family, home, love, miscommunication and prejudice, while I create familiar images with simple objects found in my studio, in a multimedia environment where things transform all the time. Along the way of making this show a lot happened in Brazil, my country of birth, where the far-right took over and homophobia became very pronounced. This show is a call for connection, for looking at the other and realising our similarities more than anything.
TF: And what drove the project, where did your influences lie?
The project was driven by my wish to connect with people and to tell my story, go through my past and strengthen myself. A way to own every part of me and say take me or leave me, but this is me. And encourage others to do the same, to take stock of their own lives, all in a very warm, lovely set up. My influences come from all the life stuff, from being real on stage, working without theatricality and creating a safe space. I often watch artists I admire and surely that influences the way I look at my work, that includes the Swiss director Marthaler whose images are so simple and yet monumental, breath-taking and moving, Peeping Tom’s way to explore relationships and Chris Goode’s daring simplicity and way of breaking theatrical rules. All of them and others makes me feel alive. I’m very mesmerised by lots of my peers too.
TF: Have you been to the Fringe before, is there anything you are keen to see whilst in Edinburgh?
I’ve been to the Fringe as a director before with the one-woman show The Last Days of Gilda a few years ago. I wasn’t in town for the whole season. This will be my first time as a performer/maker. There are lots of artists I’m looking forward to seeing this year, including Rachel Mars’ Your Sexts Are S**t, Emma Frankland’s Hearty, Rachael Young’s Out and Travis Alabanza’s Burgerz. I also look forward to seeing the whole of Contra by Laura Murphy, she performed an extract of the piece in the queer night We’re Here! which I curated at BAC in June and she’s brilliant. There are a lot of other things that I’m still to find out about I’m sure.
TF: And what are your future plans beyond Where to Belong?
I have just opened my new show Unfamiliar that I made with my partner and artist Yorgos Petrou at Arcola Theatre, as part of CASA festival, after the fringe we will go back to work on it and will be touring it in 2020. Where to Belong will also tour the UK in 2020, details to be announced soon. After the Fringe I will go back to finishing writing a play I have been working on about brotherhood and where we can connect with people who are very different to us… And I’m starting a brand new project about keeping and letting go inspired by Marie Kondo’s method and our lives.
You can see Where to Belong at Summerhall until 25th August at 10:10. For tickets, go to https://tickets.edfringe.com/