Interview: Marie McCarthy

As we embark upon October, Omnibus Theatre heads in to its fifth year of Perception Festival, this year with the theme Nasty Women. Headlining is the show Femme Fatale, an imagined meeting between “Andy Warhol’s muse and his would-be assassin” which promises to be an “unconventional dark comedy about fame, failure, and feminism.” Other shows include: I’d Rather go Blind, Havisham, The Frog Princess Punked and The Cocoa Butter Club. We interviewed artistic director Marie McCarthy about Perception Festival, this year’s line up and what inspired their theme of Nasty Women.

AT: This is the fifth year that Perception Festival has taken place at Omnibus Theatre, what inspired the first year of the festival?

MM: I am really interested in how we judge people, mostly based on little to no information, and we assume quite a lot. And it’s always struck me that if we didn’t do this, we could avoid quite a lot of issues and problems. It interests me how lack of knowledge allows people sometimes to be deeply unforgiving So Perception Festival is about judgement, how people judge us and how we deal with that; it’s the human condition. The first one was called Voyage and was about people’s journeys, leaving a land they were familiar with and arriving in a new space, and what they dealt with in that change and encountering that new environment.

AT: And what’s your opinion on theatre having the power to make that change in society – do you think it can?

MM: Yes, it can. It can open up the potential for debate; it can create a platform whereby you can see a different perspective. And you have empathy, because that’s the wonderful thing about theatre, you’re watching human beings; you are watching yourself. It’s shining a light on a situation, that can absolutely give you more knowledge, give you an insight in to something you hadn’t known or experienced before. Once you get empathy you get compassion and once you get compassion, things get less messed up.

AT: And this year your theme is Nasty Women, how did that come about?

MM: I’ve always really wanted the themes for Perception Festival to come from our organisation and the people who work here, I’m really keen that someone comes up to me and says “We really need to talk about…” This year, our marketing officer Ellie Grice, actually came up with the title Nasty Women, for Perception Festival, which felt so fitting and so right. As you know Donald Trump used the phrase during the 2016 presidential campaign in reference to Hilary Clinton. Originally a sexist slur, it’s now become a rally cry. This selection of work is about women in their skin, unapologetically doing their thing and each piece of work represents a celebration of that.

AT: What do you hope this festival will say?

MM: Hear unheard voices and stories that we don’t know much about and the selection in the programme of this festival looks at and showcase those stories. I’m hoping when people see the headline show Femme Fatale, they’ll have a bit of a historical insight of Nico and Valerie; of course it’s a fictional meeting, but they will learn a little bit about these iconic women of the 60s. Havisham questions our understanding of marriage and traditional marriage.  If they come to the Frog Princess Punked they will see this fairytale retold with a hybrid of spoken word and underscored by a punk band. When you take a classic and spin it around, which is the work we make ourselves [at Omnibus Theatre], you have a potential of getting a light in somewhere, and seeing something in a slightly different way. It’s about breaking and busting notions up. My hope is people will leave saying ‘Ah, I get that.’

AT: And there are a number of LGBT+ voices programmed as part of this festival are there any pieces you’re particularly excited about?

MM: Femme Fatale, highlights two incredible women of the 60s – an imagined meeting between Andy Warhol’s muse, Nico and his would-be assassin, Valerie Solanas. It’s a great piece of storytelling mixed with cabaret and super 8 footage, live music and stand-up.

AT: As a venue you programme a lot of LGBT+ work, why is it so important to you to programme those voices?

MM: Because I identify, I’m a queer woman, I’m interested in intersectionality and those voices that aren’t heard. Marginalised voices. It feels important to me. We’re a female-led organisation, so it’s important to me to platform work by female identifying artists, to redress the imbalance.

AT: And do you feel like you have seen a shift over the past 20 years in terms of the balance and if yes, what has that shift looked like?

MM: The shift is that the balance is changing and it still needs a lot of work. I started as an actor and in terms of parts that were available to play, it was the girl-next-door and then the mother. If you have a lot of male writers, they write male stories. So I’m promoting female-identifying work, writers, directors, actors because we need those voices to get out there.

AT: How have your audience responded to this work?

MM: We’re only six years old and as I’ve been here since the start so have got to know the audiences and seen the development first hand. Our first audience were primarily a local traditional theatre going audience but now we have a really mixed demographic. Take our most recent show LIT, which is a great example of that; we had a local college audience in alongside a traditional theatre going audience, alongside people that had travelled from North London to see the work. And the local audience here trust us as an organisation, they will test things out. I’m loving that in terms of audience development.

Have there been any difficulties that you’ve encountered in trying to schedule that work?

We’re an independent organisation and what we’re missing is funding to commission people. I would love to have a pot of money for writers, to enable to spend some time writing away from having to do their day jobs, so all we can do is offer support via free space via our scratch nights Engine Room.

Perception Festival runs throughout October at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham Common, London.

Femme Fatale runs 8th – 27th October: Book Now
I’d Rather Go Blind runs 1st – 5th October: Book Now
How to Catch a Bear, 4th Oct: Book Now
The Frog Princess Punked, 12th Oct: Book Now
Havisham runs 15th – 19th Oct: Book Now
The Cocoa Butter Club, 18th Oct: Book Now

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