Rosie Tapsell is the co-creator and performer of Rosemary and we asked her to tell us all about where the show came from for the Basement blog. Read what Rosie had to say:
I feel like this show has been moving towards me for a long time and in the last year it’s gathered momentum and picked Jazmine and I up in its wake. It was sparked when Jazmine and I got to know each other on another project last April. We realised we were both interested in interrogating the Christian myths through art. I am so grateful to be working with Jazmine, she is a powerful and intuitive artist with her own story that she brings to this work. Together we have been working with Clare Marcie, our dramaturg (and incredible space-holder) Else Strohmeier and Andrew Gunn (whose nifty handiwork you can see on our poster and promo imagery) and our formidable producer Zoe Nicholson. I’m writing here about the things that have drawn me to this collaboration.
I grew up in a non-religious family, but I am preoccupied with religious and cultural mythology. The fixation started in my Art History classes at high school, and then got stronger when I wound up taking a paper on ‘Mysticism: Spiritual Maps and Theories of Consciousness’ in the Religious Studies department at Victoria University. During that paper I was introduced to the emotionally operatic and tense world of Christian Mysticism. I came across some stories about the lives of female Christian mystics in the Middle Ages. Some of them expressed their spirituality in radical and subversive ways for their time, embracing the erotic in their teachings, challenging the authority of the Church and emphasising the intimacy of directly communing with the divine.
I grew up dancing, and during my dance-training at Unitec I was drawn more and more to ways of knowing that are grounded in the experience of the body. Linking these conceptual and physical interests together is a bit of a nerdy habit for me. Andrew Gunn and I had a crack at it on our physical-theatre work GOD-BELLY in 2014. It’s amazing to now be working with another wahine artist in a similar thematic territory, but in a very different way.
There is beauty and sadness, there is also silliness, subversion and absurdity.
Combining interests in bodily knowing and Christian mythology brings up obvious tensions. It's no secret that the many Christian religions that exist and have existed on this earth often share a pretty fraught relationship with the body, sex and the empowerment of women. The abuses and injustices these attitudes have fuelled are too many to number. Of course, there are mature and truly inspiring interpretations of these old myths and rituals out there. And amazing people who are carrying that. But you have to go looking, and sift through a lot of baggage. Why did I go looking? I was not raised with any of it, not directly anyway. I think I was attracted to the tension of salvaging wisdom from something that most people in my immediate life have rejected, quite understandably. I think i’m just a little bit contrary like that. Hah, there’s an old nursery rhyme...
My main provocation for this work was to remember things in my body that I have forgotten. Things that the current, dominant western culture both handed and forced down to me through the colonisation of this whenua, has forgotten, and then feared, suppressed and dismissed. The vitality of the feminine. Wildness. Ways of knowing through the body and through feeling that are powerful and intelligent and are not beneath or at odds with intellect, but are a crucial partner.
With Jazmine, I am exploring these things through the body, through sound, and through the qualities of the rosemary plant, which improves memory. There is beauty and sadness, there is also silliness, subversion and absurdity. The exploration is grounded in this land, and my whakapapa and reo come with me into it.
I want to keep changing and transforming for the better, despite my small capacity perhaps to understand what ‘better’ really is in the true scheme of things.
I haven’t really said much about Mary! But I guess it’s because for me, she’s the uneasy conundrum around which all this stuff is orbiting, she’s the illusion masking a gravitational pull, drawing us together. She isn't all white-light and haloes. She’s a surprise, she turns up in everybody’s faces. She’s a buzzer and she freaks me out at times. She jumps out of nowhere. Don’t be fooled by the stillness in all the pictures.
Legend has it that when Mary passed her cloak over the Rosemary bush, she changed its flowers from white to blue. I want to keep changing and transforming for the better, despite my small capacity perhaps to understand what ‘better’ really is in the true scheme of things. I think moving attentively with change is the only way to really stay alive. And if mythologies don’t have the interpretive agility to embrace that, they calcify and so do we. So I hope ROSEMARY is a space for people and myths to re-member something vital. Some hungry potential to transform and create; awesomely, wildly, voluntarily.
Rosemary is on at Basement from 26 Feb - 02 Mar as part of our Auckland Fringe Festival season. More info and tickets here.