Interview with Laura Murphy

Laura Murphy: “Contra is about Vulnerability. And about complicating female identity.”

Tim What would you say: Is it a decision of you to do political circus or does it just happen?

Laura I think talking about what is political is always interesting, isn’t it? I mean, boring things can be super political, but it’s about how you frame them. I think it’s a lot to deal with, kind of identifying with “the” political. And I think there is a lot to be said for presenting virtuosity on stage without an understanding of what you’re doing. Maybe understanding is a tough word. Maybe without considering how that itself is working.

I think in circus we kind of fall into a repetitive trap,

of just being like: This is what we do, this is what we put up on stage. And then, we don’t really think about it.

Tim Yes, it’s about being aware of what you’re communicating.

Laura Yeah! And it’s not to say: “You can’t use that, because it’s wrong, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying: Before we put it on stage, we have to think about what it is saying and why we are putting it there. And as long as you’re doing that… But I think there’s been a long time where there have been big blinds in circus there to make it.

Tim You once said, Circus has been afraid of showing mess. What kind of mess do you like?

Laura It’s interesting as you say that. I guess what I’m doing is kind of conceptual mess. I really enjoy mess on stage, I really enjoy watching artists like Lauren Barri Holstein, who really does a physical mess on stage, and for her it feeds into this narrative of disrupting ideas of femininity, and wholeness, and pop culture. And actually, when I look at “Contra”, it is really clean on stage. Everything is very very rehearsed and there is not much, there is just an apple and my rope, and a mic stand, and some plastic.

Tim And your body! And your presence!

Laura Yeah! Well, for me as a statement, it’s about the complicatedness of mess, and the blurriness of mess, and the smearing of ideas. And this kind of like, “Fuck you!” to all categorization. “Contra” for me is like conceptual mess, it’s like, “Fuck you patriarchy!”, but actually I will self-objectify my body, because I live in this world, in this western society, and that’s what it’s like. I have all this different strands of politics, it’s my persona, it’s other voices that come in, and they are a little bit smashed together, they are mangled, and then chocked out again. But I enjoy physical mess as well on stage, and messie bodies, and grotesqueness.

Tim Is it about not making things to simple, in a way?

Laura I emotionalize as well. Some things I talk a lot about in my phd is wholeness, and social media, and instagram culture, twitter feeds, so the commodification of self-identity and bodies. I think circus has a big presence on social media and on instagram. But it’s kind of perfecting tricks and stuff, and it feeds into this ideas of personal wholeness, and progress, and high achievement.

And it feels good to interrupt those narratives, because we are messy, people are messy. Messy and gross, and emotional and complicated.

Tim Who inspired you lately?

Laura There’s always people sticking in my mind. It’s not always necessarily the newest work. I really enjoy going back into the archive and looking at stuff that’s not new as well. But I think the most recent influence is an artist called Dickie Beau, he’s a lip sync artist. And I’ve been lucky enough to do some work with him. Dickie is a really phenomenal lip-sync artist and theatre maker. And I got to work with him technically, but also conceptually: What does lip syncing do? And why could you choose to use it? I like the politics behind it, the subversion that can happen, and also the celebration to mingling in different identities that you can build using lip-syncing. {…} In “Contra”, I use lip-syncing as a kind of a controversial statement, where I’m lip-syncing a very misogynistic comedy or a Christian preacher who thinks that god invented women for men. It’ s a really exciting, difficult, beautiful, and virtuosic performance form.

Katharina What comes into your mind thinking of our Festival slogan "I love you stranger"?

Laura Sex. That was my first idea. But I guess intimacy, if I keep on thinking about it.

It might have something to do with the current situation, everyone is in the houses and cannot be in touch with others. I’m really lucky, I live in a shared house, so I have access to sort of physical intimacy with other people. But I really miss it, I miss all sorts of intimacy in every different context, it doesn’t have to be sexual.

Katharina So, what you thought about it when you first heard it and what you think about it today is almost the same?

Laura I mean today, there is so much solidarity. I have a lot of anger right now, for the billionaires I guess, who aren’t supporting in this crisis. I’m really angry with the UK Government at the moment. But on the kind of flip side,

I’m also really surprised how much beauty there is in terms of kindness, in people helping each other.

I was walking home last night from the park, and on Thursdays in England there is this thing where people clap for the NHS, the national house service. They come out of their houses at 8 o’clock and everyone claps. There’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not people should do it as the UK government uses it to distract from underfunding the NHS, but I think there is a beauty in this.

Katharina Can you teach us three lessons about feminism?

Laura I can’t. (laughs out loud). Teach you three lessons? No, I don’t like telling people what to do.

Katharina Is this the first lesson?

Laura I feel like it’s just lessons about humanity:

Be nice, people are not objects

Difference is sexy

Try to treat everyone equally

Try to be aware of your own internal prejudices

Don’t make random comments about how people look in public transports

So, as a society, we all grew up in all of this. It’s about not necessarily always rejecting things. We inherited this and we have to try to be aware.

Katharina And what is the biggest misunderstanding when it comes to feminism?

Laura That it’s against men. Or that it’s only for cis-gendered women. I think those two are the biggest misconceptions. Feminism is for everybody, regardless of what gender you are. Feminism for me is a rejection of patriarchy. Maybe I see feminism in a similar way as I see queerness, which is actually not a linear idea of what sexuality or identity is. It’s something that’s very open. It’s about opening identities and being inclusive.

Katharina What does “Contra” mean to you?

Laura Well, the word “Contra” means against. I also like the sound of the word and I like that it sounds a bit like cunt. Cuntra (laughs).

In terms of the show: When you write a concept for a show, you say, there is this, it wants this. But every time I perform the show, I learn more about what it means to me. A lot through the interaction I have with the audience, this is one of the coolest lessons I guess.

Originally, when I started “Contra”, it was definitely a “fuck you” show. I felt like I really wanted to say something, and it still does feel like that. But, as time has progressed, it becomes increasingly about vulnerability, about celebration, about complicating female identity and queerness. Mental health always feeds in. And it is more and more about sharing moments with the audience, which feels like an extremely cheesy thing to say.

There are moments where I laugh with the audience, and where I’m silly with them. We go on so many different journeys together. And there is a moment in the show, where I literally feel, when I look at the audience, where I’m just gonna start crying. But it’s amazing to get to that point, to be so open and have nothing to hide. And I could have never predicted that when I started making that. It’s wicked (lacht).

Tim Are there different reactions in different countries?

Laura Yes, there are. It’s really interesting and really different. It’s a snapshot into how people discuss sexuality, feminism, female identity, queerness. The audience in France or in England, they are really up for laughing, and they are quite naughty I think, that sense of humour is quite kind of similar. People in Croatia or Serbia will say afterwards, “that was hilarious”, but they usually don’t laugh. They smile a little bit, and they are really engaged, they look at you all the time, but they don’t laugh out loud. In Finland we were told before that nobody would laugh, but then we got there and we found that they think it’s really funny, but different things funny. They laughed the most when I talk about poo.

Katharina What is your biggest wish what societies did learn after the shutdown is over?

Laura There should be a big conversation about who we value in society, and that covers a whole spectrum of jobs. If you work in hospitals, supermarkets, transport systems, care workers, any of those frontline jobs. And also, how we value art. Everyone is locked inside, binge watching Netflix, national theatre shows, and god knows what else. In England, we are really fighting to safe the arts and to make sure that the art industry doesn’t collapse. In a positive way, I hope there will be a new sense of community and kindness. I really hope so. And I hope we can shift back to our other really huge crisis, the climate change that we can’t pretend isn’t happening.

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Laura Murphy is an expert in pointing out contradictions and contrasts – passionate, witty, yet uncompromising. With her performance “Contra” Laura showcases what she thinks society urgently needs to talk about: the female body. Being a Doctor of theatre and performance and an acrobat-artist touring around the world, she manages to spread her message also in her Technical Rider: There she asks the festival team to actively seek to employ a gender balanced technical crew.

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