You may know Elöise Mignon from her performances on screens and on stages, or perhaps as an audiobook narrator for the likes of Sally Rippin’s Billie B Brown series and Elizabeth Tan’s Rubik. You might be familiar with her literary and academic works, such as her recent Meanjin article. We know her by all of these roles, and one other – we are excited to reveal Elöise is an Antithesis 2019 contributor! This year’s journal will contain Elöise’s creative non-fiction piece, ‘Devotion to a Symptom’. We present Siana Einfeld’s interview with Elöise ahead of the journal’s launch on 15 October.
Your piece in our forthcoming 2019 edition is called ‘Devotion to a Symptom’, a work of creative non-fiction in which you have woven together the story of your friend with very interesting research and theory. Can you tell us a little about the process of writing the piece?
The piece ended up at a distance from my first intention. I pitched a piece about the Catholic Church and a family dealing with inherited trauma through alternative belief systems. But I didn’t know how to write that piece! I suppose I realised that it was strange to think I could be objective about Luke and his life, and that it was perhaps also strange to be so interested in it. So I tried to understand why I respect him so much.
In the piece, you explore the devotion of your friend, Luke. I’d love to know what you are devoted to? What has this devotion cost you, and what has it given you?
I admire people that are devoted to thought devices and praxes, like Luke. I have ongoing obsessions, but I don’t know how good I have been at devoting myself in that way. I am devoted to obvious sentimental things like my child and my brothers and friends.
What draws you to creative non-fiction?
I think creative non-fiction is a good way to process some of my obsessions.
When you write, do you have a first reader? Do you have a desired readership in mind?
That’s a good question. I do think about some people I know—I suppose they are people I know to be exacting readers. I think so many people can write well. But so few read well!
You’re bilingual. Do you write in French as well? If so, how is it different to writing in English?
I don’t really write in French! I should try to. I like reading in French.
You are doing at PhD at the moment. Can you tell us a little about your research process?
I am looking at the relationship between theatre and the state, using the work of contemporary French philosopher Alain Badiou. I am writing my second chapter, which focuses on Aeschylus’ Oresteia and the Athenian state. It’s all come down to one word: stasis. I am reading lots of brilliant scholarship: Nicole Loraux, Barbara Cassin, Rebecca Comay, Frank Ruda, Anne Carson and several translations of the trilogy.
As an actor, you have performed both in theatre productions including Blasted and Complexity of Belonging, and on screen including The Legacy of the Silver Shadow and Silversun, among many others. How do writing and acting intersect for you?
I did the bulk of my TV work before I was 21 or 22, and did not ever write for TV. With theatre, I have written collaboratively in various ways: often through transcribed improvisations in the rehearsal room, sometimes alone or alongside a writer-director in a hotel room after work.
Another way theatre and writing might intersect is that I’d like to write about doing plays. Not in an autobiographical way, but to think through what it is to repeat thoughts night after night, and wait in the dark, and make oneself cry, and form attachments, and build a whole world, and never get it exactly right, and then have it all end.
You also narrate Sally Rippin’s blockbuster selling Billie B Brown books. What do you read for pleasure? And what do you think makes a great story?
I read a lot, but never as much as I’d like to. The last novel I finished was Reality and Dreams by Muriel Spark. Next to my bed now is the collection of Rachel Cusk essays, Coventry. Also La symphonie pastorale of André Gide, La cœur cousu by Carole Martinez—copies of which were given to me by both the makeup artist and the costume assistant on the last show I did in Paris—and the new novel of Ocean Vuong. I don’t know if that is a very representative snapshot of my usual taste, but that is what is there. This year I remember loving books by Ellen van Neerven, Sheila Heti, Jenny Offil, Sharon Olds’ Odes, and stuff I re-read by my mum’s late step-mother Carolyn See, who is a brilliant, funny writer from L.A..
You also have a baby! How do you balance parenting, with performing and your academic research?
I don’t think I balance it very well. Something is always being neglected or is off-kilter. I have not performed at all this year, for example. And I constantly feel like I am losing the plot. I have the deepest gratitude for the workers at my child’s creche.
How has becoming a parent changed the way you approach your creative pursuits?
I don’t have as much time to be neurotic, and I don’t work much from home. When I rehearse a play I stop thinking about it when I walk out the door.
Aside from your PhD, what have you got cooking in your creative pot at the moment?
Theatre-wise, it looks as though a friend and I will get to collaborate on a work in Greece at the end of the year. Apart from writing my thesis, I have ideas for essays and things, and will try and find time to execute them. One is to write about books I read and re-read in primary school, like 45 and 47 Stella St. and Everything that Happened by Elizabeth Honey, which is about gentrification and financial crime, and Harriet the Spy, which is about a lonely, analytic child whose parents party all the time, and how they relate to what I think about now when I think about my own childhood and parenting.
Our 2019 edition will launch on Tuesday 15 October. Join us at our launch party from 7pm at the University of Melbourne, where you will be able to purchase a print copy and read Elöise’s ‘Devotion to a Symptom’ as well as many other beautiful works of non-fiction, fiction, poetry and academic essays.