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Marisa Carnesky: Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman

By | Published on Monday 7 August 2017

It’s always the case that you’ll find interesting, mould-breaking and taboo tackling stuff here at the Edinburgh Fringe, and this show certainly falls into all those categories. ‘Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman’ offers an exploration of something that is rarely spoken of openly in society, let alone on stage or in the media.
To find out more about the show and what to expect from it, I put some questions to the creative force behind the project, Marisa Carnesky.

CM: Firstly, can you explain the format of the show…? And what genre would you categorise it as? Does it have a narrative…?
MC: The show starts as a traditional if not a bit batty anthropology lecture and starts to mutate into a live art cabaret show/ magic show and ends up as an all out witchy activist ritual. It does have a form of narrative after an introductory lecture section. It is the story of an experiment we undertook as a group of performers of meeting every new dark moon for three months and creating performative rituals on those days. I asked the performers to record information about changes in their lives and their bodily cycles over the three months and we reveal those findings through spectacular and witty performance vignettes. Some of the things we reveal are very personal, emotive and challenging.

CM: The show explores the topic of menstruation of course (I think we might have guessed from the title…) but can you tell us a bit about how you go about it? What’s the angle?
MC: The show is born from my PhD research project about reinventing menstrual rituals. I wanted to create a characterised cabaret version of myself as a witchy academic doctor that embodied a stylistic sensibility of classic horror films. The work swings between a theatrical spectacle that has a hammer house of horror vibe to a live art ‘practice as research’ art experiment, it is both serious and funny and I guess has a a variety of angles that come together in the formation of a real activist movement that grew out of the show called ‘The Menstronauts’.

CM: What other themes do you look at in the show?
MC: The show explores a variety of themes that emerge from menstruation. I’m not exploring the science or the medical implications of menstruating. We are looking at the cultural representation of menstruation and the lost and forgotten matriarchal rituals and menstrual symbols of human culture. But we go beyond this to look at themes of trans identity, miscarriage, women’s activism, childbirth and transgressive circus performance. We play with style and genre to shapeshift around a landscape that intersects the academic with the nightclub and the spectacle.

CM: What made you want to create a piece looking at this subject? What inspired the show?
MC: In the 1990s I studied a lot of feminist and cultural texts looking at the hidden meanings of fairytales in terms of life cycles and ritual change from writers like Angela Carter and Marina Warner. I went to The Radical Anthropology Group – London’s oldest running evening class – and was very moved by the work of anthropologist Chris Knight and his book ‘Menstruation and The Origins of Culture’. I also read a great book called ‘The Wise Wound’. Over twenty years later, in the process of exploring my own fertility journey and struggle I came back to these books and ideas and decided to approach some of my favourite collaborators to make this work with me.

CM: Is there anything political about this..? Are you trying to make the topic less of a taboo?
MC: The show is very political. I construct a case in my lecture to suggest that women can synchronise their cycles both physically and conceptually and that is the origin, from anthropological research, of communal action and strike. We reference the growing movement of Womens Marches around the world, and the notion of solidarity and direct action for social change.

CM: Do you think your approach could shock people?
MC: We are not making the work to shock, it comes from a very genuine and rigorous process, but what we do and say by the nature of the taboos it tackles will be shocking for many people. But if you watch the whole piece we hope to answer questions through the work and images we create that give audiences a deeper insight into the notion of menstruation as shocking or taboo.

CM: Can you tell us about the other people performing with you? Who are they all and what do they contribute?
We have a big bold and wonderful team including cabaret legend and hair hanger Fancy Chance, Elle Columnist, author and trans activist Rhyannon Styles, circus showwoman and sword swallower MisSa Blue, visual performer and singer with the Japanese pop legends The Frank Chickens, Nao Nagai, ‘Duckie’ favourite live artist and choreographer H Plewis and a very new very cute edition to the cast – Sula Robin Plewis – who is only one year old. I asked them to join me in a devising performance experiment and we made the work following a specific ritualistic process I evolved with them. They show the work they created as part of this process and reveal the outcomes of this as an experience in their lives.

CM: Which other creatives are involved with the show?
MC: The costumes were created by bespoke costumier Claire Ashley, and there are films by Claire Lawrie and Nao Nagai. I had the wonderful Kira O’Reily and Florence Peake come in as dramaturgs and outside eyes. The talented young Tom Cassani did a bit of magical staging with me and there have been some great producers working on it including Flora Herberich for this run and Lara Clifton through its development.

CM: What made you decide to bring the show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?
MC: The show has grown over the last couple of years and we had a great run at Soho theatre at Christmas and got great reviews and powerful responses from audiences. It’s a big show and not your average independent production for Edinburgh. and the company are taking a big risk. But I felt that this was the show I believed was right for Edinburgh and it comes from a strong, developed and genuine place and it felt like an important time politically to be putting it out there in the festival and trying to reach a bigger audience.

CM: Have you been to the festival before? What are you looking forward to?
MC: Yes, I was here with the ‘Duckie’ show I co created as part of the British Council Showcase about 15 years ago!!!! and then again doing a magic spot in the Speigeltent with the Insect Circus about 10 years ago… so it’s high time I brought my own production!  I’m looking forward to the unique experience you get at the Edinburgh Fringe of seeing so many fellow amazing international artists and feeling part a wonderful huge creative gang.

CM: Are there any other shows you have plans to see while you are in Edinburgh?
MC: There are so many great shows this year, I’ve already seen Hot Brown Honey, Lucy Hopkins and Mikelanagelo and planning to get to Shit Theatre, Katy Baird, Sweatshop, Betty Grumble, Ruben Kaye, Peter and Bambi, Wild Bore and Liz Aggiss… and lots more besides!

CM: What plans does your company have for the future?
MC: I also run an alternative stage school called Carnesky’s Finishing School where artists get space, feedback and structured workshops from me and guest practitioners to create their own new work in a supportive environment. We recently did a pop up of it in Soho in the former Foyles building and next I’m planning to pop it up in Brighton.

CM: What’s next for the show, after the run here?
MC: We are touring the work to Croatia in October and we’ve got a few juicy offers on the negotiating table and are excited to see if any more come along… I’m also planning to programme a season of work and a symposium around menstruation in 2018 so keep watching the Carnesky.com website for developments!

‘Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman’ was performed at Pleasance Courtyard at Edinburgh Festival 2017.

Photo: Claire Lawrie

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