Interview: Patisserie Femme – satirical play – commentary on how woman are defined – to be chewed, consumed and spat out– how South Africa has allowed itself to be shaped by Western standards of what is desirable
|Patisserie Femme– satire
Writer and director: Jessie Diepeveen
Performers: Liphelo Matthews and Nomfundo Selepe
Premiere seasons in the Cape:
~ The Drama Factory, Strand- March 16, 18, 19, 2023
Drama Factory booking link: https://www.thedramafactory.co.za/
~ Theatre Arts, Observatory- March 24-26, 2023
Theatre Arts booking link: https://theatrearts.co.za/show/patisserie_femme
Stage manager: Thato Mosiuoa
Production manager: Sinezile Matutu
Poster design: Ellen Heydenrych
Age advisory: No under 16s
Produced in association with the National Arts Council
Recently graduated South African theatre maker Jessie Diepeveen has stepped out into her first year on the professional boards, with her satirical play, Patisserie Femme, which will have its premiere seasons , at The Drama Factory on March 16, 18, 19 and at Theatre Arts, March 24-26. Patisserie Femme is a mockumentary, meta-theatre style of performance – with “a bakery dedicated to selling not pastries, not cakes, but women”. As a young artist, Diepeveen (22, as of March 2023) has become alarmingly tuned into how women are sexualized in terms of food and “foodie words”, such as “sweetie pie”, “hot cakes” and in particular the “fetishisation of black skin, and the comparison thereof to chocolate”. As meta-theatre performance style, Diepeveen muses that in Patisserie Femme, “the characters are aware that an audience is listening to and watching them.” They are marketing themselves to the audience – new customers- which heightens the transactional thrust of the piece. Patisserie Femme is the debut production of Three Pillars – a theatre production company which is operated by Diepeveen, Thato Mosiuoa and Sinezile Matutu.
Title – Patisserie Femme – women as “sweet” confectionary
You have said that the “literal translation of Patisserie Femme is woman pastry/confectionary” and that you have tried to give it an ambiguous meaning to ask the question of: ”Is it women running the shop or is it women as pastries”. Can you talk about the title?
Jessie Diepeveen: The title Patisserie Femme is French, but makes little sense when translated to English. It is simply, put “woman confectionery” or “woman pastry”. The title is based on the name of the confectionery in which the play takes place.
Metaphorical space- theatre of imagination
Patisserie Femme “is based in a bakery in the heart of Cape Town amidst an array of mouth-watering confectionaries.” Was this play inspired by a particular patisserie/bakery– in Cape Town or somewhere else?
Jessie Diepeveen: There was not a particular patisserie in Cape Town that inspired the environment of the play. The element of Cape Town that exists is mostly brought in through the characters. I have tapped into conversations that you might’ve overheard in Cape Town and its surrounds. A lot of what is explored in Patisserie Femme is commentary on the way in which South Africa has allowed itself to be shaped by Western standards. This play is simply put, satire. I wanted to find a way to get people thinking about these weird conventions of society in a fun and, I think, hilarious way. I specifically want to give an educational element to younger audiences as well – to teach girls that they are allowed to refuse answering to these conventions, and to guide boys in the right direction and not to flirt with their crush by calling her “baby cakes”. The performers are working tirelessly – using their imagination and physical/comic book theatre training to create the patisserie environment as beautifully as they can. They are meticulous when it comes to texture, finding the right sounds and quirks about the kitchen vs office vs till. I can’t wait for their imaginative devices to be shared with the audience.
Women as sweet and desirable – until they are beyond sell by date
There is obviously a wry commentary on women as objects, as transactional things’ – to be acquired, eaten up, devoured and maybe spat out. The terms that we think and you have used some – a bun in the oven- ‘how are you doing cupcake’- and so on. We don’t get that with men – none that I can think of. What inspired you as a 22 year old woman to write this play?
Jessie Diepeveen: A great deal of inspiration to explore this consumer approach that many men have towards women came from my friends’ talking about the fetishisation of black skin, and the comparison thereof to chocolate. This language got me thinking about how so much of what you are as a woman is defined by something that can be consumed, and how that churns out the ideology that women are a treat for men to indulge in as they wish. Being a 22 year old woman in South Africa, I have been catcalled too many times to count, and although sometimes the commentary is along the lines of “hey sexy”, more often than not it is “hey sweetie pie”, or “hey sugar”. These sort of phrases sit particularly heavily, considering the majority of time that I would have been spoken to in such a way was as a child. I think in creating this piece, I mostly want to make people aware that what might be a harmless pet-name at a young age, actually goes far deeper when it is being reiterated at every stage of girl/womanhood. It is almost ingrained into a young woman’s mind that she is delicate, cute, and always something for someone else. These sugar-coated names apply to every age group (that is until a woman reaches maturity and is no longer accepted by the standard beauty convention that means aging is ugly, then they are no longer sweet and desirable). The more I researched and divulged into the themes of the play, the more interesting it got: I soon found myself in awe of the way in which so many fruits have been sexualized to fit into this narrative of tasty women, and how both fruit and women leave a sweet taste on the tongue.
Mockumentary, meta-theatre style of performance- watching ourselves being watched
The bakery is “dedicated to selling not pastries, not cakes, but women.” It is satirical and there are characters. Is there a narrative?
Jessie Diepeveen: This play is more like a “slice” (pun intended) out of the bakery’s day-to-day activities rather than a story. The Patisserie Femme environment remains the same throughout the performance. We are inside the bakery the entire play, and different characters reference each other,or other ingredients/pastries that we may have been introduced to beforehand. There is no particular narrative. It is like being a fly on the wall – though we hope there are no flies in the kitchen. The element of self-awareness that comes in for the meta-theatre performance style, is that the characters are aware that an audience is listening to and watching them. This show has been sold to the characters as a “marketing technique” to get new customers interested.
Good enough to eat- chewing on our imagination
Staying with concoction – and that women (and children) are frequently portrayed as objects to be desired, viewed and to be devoured – “eat you all up”, I am thinking of plays in which food has been used as seduction and for the audience to eat. Contrary to the delicious title, there will not be pastries on offer for the audience to chew on?
Jessie Diepeveen: There aren’t any physical pastries in Patisserie Femme, but I am hoping to bake some goodies to put on sale at the performance venues. I would love to give the audience the opportunity to see and taste the true definition of a mouth-watering confectionary. But before then, the audiences will need to chew on their imagination and keep up with the physical theatre style of constant creation.
Influences feeding into Patisserie Femme
Your thoughts and reflections in what led you as a young woman to write this piece- any particular film or book which fed into the piece?
Jessie Diepeveen: I will be very honest and say that I drew from very few artistic influences in writing this piece – I got more inspiration from everyday life. It is exciting to know that I have written something fresh, and something that I know personally. I was given the advice in a scriptwriting class in varsity that I should always refer back to something that I am familiar with in writing, and I can say that I successfully did that this time. I can’t say I was influenced by art by women for women, but I was influenced by powerful women in my life – be it varsity friends, roommates or my mom and sister.
I am thinking of Alice in Wonderland – and the proliferation of food and tarts” The Queen of Tarts. Alice spends a lot of time thinking about food, lusting after food and getting involved with potions and of course the famous Queen of Tarts scene. Lewis Carroll was thought to be a paedophile, and the Alice that inspired him was apparently one of his victims. He sexualized youth and women- so we wanted to eat them all up. Wondering if Alice and the tarts came to mind when writing this play?
Jessie Diepeveen: Interesting observation – thank you for that thought, it’s not one I had come to myself. Funny you mention tarts though, we had a moment in rehearsal this last week where I had written about a “custard tart”. My performer had an “ah-ha” moment when she remembered that tart was a derogatory term for “a woman who dresses or behaves in a way that suggests she wants to have sex with a lot of different people”. I find it unbelievable how many foodie words are linked to women – every day I think of new material. Perhaps I will have to do part 2, 3, 4, 5…
The genesis of Patisserie Femme
Patisserie Femme is your professional debut as writer/director? You wrote this in the summer of 2022/23 (December/January)?
Jessie Diepeveen: I graduated with a distinction in theatre-making at UCT at the end of 2022. I am due to go to my grad ceremony at the end of March. Although I loved my final exam play and first play of 50 minutes, I felt like Patisserie Femme was a play that I had been wanting to dive into for a while. I first had the idea during lockdown, and only really fleshed it out around December 2022/January 2023. I had very much let it slip my mind for a good two years after the initial thought, but in bursts of creativity I wrote monologues and monologues and monologues – most of it really was derived from free writing spurts which is quite unlike my typical approach. I felt really empowered in writing this play because I was finally finding a way to address the absurdity of language and treatment towards girls/women.
Three Pillars Production
Patisserie Femme is the debut production of Three Pillars Productions- you, Thato Mosiuoa are Sinezile Matutu are all UCT graduates. You all attended UCT together? Why is it called Three Pillars? Is it your intention to only produce your own work or are you open to producing work by others?
Jessie Diepeveen: Myself, Thato and Nezi (Sinezile) were each other’s pillars during UCT, and that is what inspired our production company together. What started as one mask work project in 2nd year turned into a wonderful working and general life relationship. Having all studied theatre-making, we are keen on getting each other’s work on the ground, but are definitely interested and seeking collaborations. We are so very open to producing on behalf of others – each of us has our admin strengths, so getting all the daunting production work done is relatively seamless. We are women-led, and hope to continue bringing women’s voices to audiences. Three Pillars Productions has a few theatre productions in our back pocket that we are hoping to revive this year. We are wanting to produce a play for young audiences – specifically the tween gap that is so often left out. We have been talking about doing some exciting edits and adding sparkle to our final year pieces from UCT. On a personal level, I have been loving being back in front of the camera and being directed for the first time in a while. I wasn’t able to do all that much acting throughout my degree because I was fulfilling the technical designer/director/writer role, so I am very excited to be back on the acting scene and on set.
✳This interview has been marginally edited for length and clarity. Images supplied.