Marisa Carnesky is interested in exploring the representation of women, variety entertainment and ritual in her work. She talks to Giverny Masso about her latest show Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman, which uses stage magic and spectacle to look at the female menstrual cycle…
What characterises the work with your company Carnesky Productions?
Firstly, I’m a feminist, so I’m interested in ideas around representation of women. The second thing is that I’m interested in traditional variety entertainment and spectacle. Thirdly, I’m curious about ritual and the idea of creating rituals in life. The fourth thing is cultural politics and cultural identity: who we are and where we come from.
What inspired Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman?
I was trying to get pregnant, and I kept having miscarriages – it was very sad. I thought: ‘What do I do in life when there’s something I can’t solve?’ And the answer was that I make a show about it. I did some research into rituals around menstruation, and how in some cultures it has been seen as a powerful rite of passage. The show looks at women’s relationship with blood and explores menstruation using stage magic. There are very few plays that tackle the three Ms: menstruation, miscarriage and menopause – these topics are still seen as taboo. These are massive things that happen to women, so why do we have to keep silent? We’ve also created an activist group called the Menstronauts, which looks to raise awareness of the importance of the cycle and global issues relating to women’s bodies and their menstrual rights.
How did you get into performance?
I trained in ballet at West Street Ballet School in Covent Garden. The teachers always told me I was very creative and had the mind of a choreographer. I used to go to gothic clubs at night and train in ballet in the day. I then went to the Laban Centre to do a degree in dance. The teachers there told me what I was doing was more performance art. I’d always wanted to make my own work, so this is what I began doing.
What are some career highlights?
In 1988, I was in a troupe called the Dragon Ladies. We went to the Raymond Revue, a high-class strip club, and convinced them to let us have it on a Sunday. We made a performance that was an arty and surreal version of burlesque there. Another important show was my one-woman piece Jewess Tattooess, which looked at the Jewish taboo against body art. The next great idea was to build a ghost ride, which was called Carnesky’s Ghost Train. We built a real ghost train – it cost a lot of money. It toured for five years and then it was an attraction on Blackpool’s Golden Mile.
What inspired the ghost train?
I wanted to do a big spectacle piece, and I’d always had a love of the fairground. The concept explored people, particularly women, who wanted to cross borders and people in exile, with some of the performers having come from artist-in-exile groups. The course of the train stopped and started around different stages, it was a really beautiful thing. You could be five years old or someone with an arts degree and get it.
Training: Ballet at West Street Ballet School in London (1987-88); Dance degree at the Laban Centre (1988-90); Visual and Performing Arts degree at the University of Brighton (1990-93); fellowship at the University of Sheffield’s National Fairground Archive (2007-10); PhD at Middlesex University (2013-present)
First professional role: Member of Divas dance group (1992)
Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman tours until November 24