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Revelations, Reworks and the Importance of Toilets

Image by Reuben and Jay

Following a host of successful runs at Soho Theatre, Underbelly, South Bank, Edinburgh and Adelaide Fringes, Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman has gone on a magical, mystery road trip this autumn - soon to climax at London's Soho Theatre, 19-24 November. Please note dear reader, it will be a full moon on Friday 23 November. Not any old full moon. This one's special: a 'Beaver Full Moon'.

Here Marisa writes for Run-Riot about menstruation, magic, symbolism, nostalgia and the now - and, of course: the bloody revolution!

Making Avant garde feminist theatre shows with relatively big casts and production over the years, the one thing that’s been a compromise a lot of the time is the quality of the rehearsal space. London spaces that have basic things like heat and running water and are accessible by public transport are usually not affordable for small companies like ours. I’ve rehearsed and devised shows in dis-used car plants, abandoned basements, drafty old tents, wet and rainy fields. So, twenty-five years on having the luxury of tea and toilets makes me feel I’ve hit the big time. This luxury though was not in London but in Brighton where we were very lucky to have a residency over the summer at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts to rework and refine our psychedelic menstrual spectacular.
Perhaps of all the shows I’ve done this one we needed access to decent facilities more than ever as we are touring with choreographer and writer Haitch Plewis and her beautiful little daughter Sula. Who appears in the show and is 2 years old. Toilets have been on my mind a lot with this production, public toilets and access to them. In this expanded version of the work Rhyannon Styles, trans activist, writer and performer just does that, exploring in her monologue issues arising from the proposed Gender Recognition Act reforms and debates in feminism that have challenged trans women’s identity and their rights to access to women only spaces, like public toilets. Rhyannon, who has been a member of my performance company for over a decade, took on the challenge of researching what menstruation means to her with both hands. What results is her extraordinary monologue that is not afraid to get downright bloody and messy.
Equally Haitch holds no prisoners in her frank and visceral expose of Sula’s challenging birth. The show calls for us to look at menstruation and bodily cycles as more than just a hygiene issue, to look at the lost cultural rituals around cyclicity. But what happens when you have no choice as Haitch did, but to give over your body to the professionals. Missa Blue, a performance artist and sword swallower, challenges the shows obsession to highlight the cultural power of menstruation, questioning how important it actually was for her growing up, discovering though through her extraordinary profession that we cannot ignore the bodies cycles. Fancy Chance becomes the nurse to my doctor and with wry wit and words like bullets challenges issues around birth control, how menstruation can connect us to a sense of self and being a cis woman and not wanting children. I give a potted account of the research I did on the lost rituals and mythology around menstruation, embodying at first an eccentric Aunt Flo style academic from some unknown 1970s horror film to reveal as the others do my own story, which for me is about recurrent miscarriage. When blood becomes an unwelcome visitor and a symbol of infertility and trauma, how do we reconnect with the body’s cycles?
Our stories contribute to the overall themes of the work- revealing menstruations overlooked contribution to culture, from the origins of menstrual rituals and their relationship to the notion of the collective, to the politics around menstrual activism, to the invention of magic. In The Incredible Bleeding Woman menstruation becomes a radical and potent symbol of the power of collective, the origins of that which unites us to call for cultural change.
But let’s not forget aesthetics. There is a big nod to 1970’s horror in the show, creating magical and nostalgic landscapes for us to subvert and redefine. The sawn in half woman is reunited with her pelvis through the power of the menstrual collective. The lights are lurid and beautiful like a scene from the original Suspira, the lecture hall of the secret institute has been taken over by free bleeding naked feminists of all shapes and sizes. I’ll say no more. The revolution will be Bloody, The revolution will be Menstrual.

Marisa Carnesky

Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman
19-24 November
Soho Theatre
21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE 

Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman is co-commissioned by Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts.

Marisa Carnesky is the Creative Director of Carnesky Productions. Previous projects include Carnesky’s Ghost Train (2004-2014) and alternative stage school Carnesky’s Finishing School. Carnesky Productions is interested in the use of spectacle, magic illusions and grand ritual as a means of creating highly accessible provocative work rooted in popular culture to promote cultural and political discourse.

Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman is the result of Marisa Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman research project which she completed as part of a PhD at Middlesex University.

Image by Reuben Jay Photography

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