“Manifesting Mrs. Marx” is a experimental solo play that was awarded four stars by the British Theater Guide and “Highly Recommended” by the Fringe Review. The play will enjoy its NYC debut at the New York Theater Festival with performances on May 18, 20, and 22.
The play focuses on Jenny Marx, the wife of Karl Marx, who was the power and provider behind the “great” man. This absurdist play draws from Clown/Buffon in an homage to feminism, egalitarianism, and the human value of fragmented identities. It has been performed at Edinburgh Fringe in 2019 and awarded an Italian Workshop/Theater residency, with a US tour forthcoming.
Recently, creator and star Clara Francesca discussed the play and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your talent for writing and what was it about plays and the theater that most interested you?
Clara Francesca (CF): At 12 years of age, I was fortunate to have the support of my primary school to write and direct a play where we raised money for a charity called Very Special Kids https://www.vsk.org.au/. From this success, I began to fall in love with the conscionable art of storytelling. In my late teens I would be fortunate to train with Shakespearian scholars and fall in love with the heartbeat of the iambic pentameter and begin to understand the use of language on the psyche more intimately.
MM: How did you find out about the story of Jenny Marx and why did suddenly do inspire you?
CF: I was performing as Jenny Marx’s daughter in The Servant of the Revolution by Anitra Nelson https://anitranelson.info/servant-of-the-revolution/. Backstage, in the theater wings and in her breaks, I began to develop my clown work and found myself embodying Jenny Marx in a giant heavy overcoat, wearing a ridiculous gregarious/socialite hat. It struck me, the pain this woman had been through, especially considering the two suicides of her daughters. I felt the weight of Jenny’s responsibility as a woman in the 1800s, trapped inside the male gaze, trapped inside the obligations that society had placed on her. Thus began the writing of Mrs. Marx, later Manifesting Mrs. Marx, then Manifesting Mrs. Marx 3.0 with long term prospects to secure a immersive technological hybrid financially supported residency where I can further develop Manifesting Mrs. Marx incorporating Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and smart contracts where the audience can engage more directly in the control of puppeteering Mrs. Marx as a metaphor for controlling their own inner turmoil and light as individuals and as the collective at large, addressing what it means to own various limbs, metrics and qualities of the “Puppeteered Mrs. Marx”.
MM: How tough was it to create a one-woman show around this concept?
CF: It was quite humbling to learn how to navigate storytelling and artistically through the lens of psychosis, which I propose in the play is something both she and Karl Marx would have experienced, although it would not have been defined as such at the time. What I really learnt was how powerful it was to get the audience laughing with me at the beginning and feeling with me as we journey to the end of the tale. The experience of creating the show was really invigorating as is the actual performance of it. For me the toughest part is in production week, an overwhelming sense of loneliness that comes over me just before I perform the piece… which on some level serves as an allegory to the experience I’m keen for the audience to have.
MM: Why do you enjoy working within the parameters—or the outer bounds—of experimental theater?
CF: When I was training with SITI Company as part of their Inaugural Conservatory, I was able to really explore tools of experimental theater and some of my favorite ingredients where elements of clown that welcome the audience to participate at a distance, meaning, that the artist make the audience believe they are about to participate in the event but not to a degree that they would actually be uncomfortable in practice. I really enjoy giving audience members prompts and visuals that they can piece together alongside their own opinions of the world and the play they are watching where they inevitably will create their own narrative of the journey, but as they collectively sit next to other audience members… thereby holding space together experiencing life in the ‘same but different’ perceptions of life.
MM: How much research did you do into the actual woman?
CF: LOTS! There are some great books about her life and there is an archive of all the letters Karl and she wrote to one another. However, this play is NOT a biographical piece. I feel strongly that if someone wants the complete history of Jenny Marx they can enjoy reading Mary Garbiel’s phenomenal book “Love & Capital” or hire me to play Jenny in the feature film 🙂 In addition to this, my play “Manifesting Mrs. Marx” asks the question ‘how can we ever truly know one another?’, with flourishes of Pirandello’s “Six Characters In Search of An Author”, and so for me to have created a biographical play about Jenny Marx would be highly hypocritical as there is no way I as a creator of a work centuries after she lived could begin to have any understanding of who she fundamentally was.
MM: What’s your favorite part of the play and why?
CF: My favorite part of the play is where I hand audience members seven mardi gras plastic necklaces to nurse throughout the remainder of the show. The necklaces represent each one of Jenny’s children who a majority had fairly tragic deaths. The ritual of this is both eerie and healing as we learn to hold our loved ones in our palms. The meaning of the beads come from the Shrove Tuesday traditions where the Christians were symbolizing justice, power and faith in the wearing of these beads and could be used as good luck charms.
MM: How did you manage to get this piece performed in so many top-rate venues?
CF: I have been really very lucky. Working with Olivier Award winning producer, actor, director and writer Guy Masterson opened up avenues to have the piece taken as seriously as I hoped it to be and to have a really eclectic group of audience members see the works. Every time I present the show I am so inspired by the responses of the audience and their personal insights into the work. I recall a father and son came to see the show. They confided that they had never seen a theater play before, only ever a couple of musicals. They expressed that Jenny’s story of being ostracized and misunderstood resonated for them when navigating the horrors of white supremacy’s impact on their personal and professional lives in North America. A few white males listening to this father and son shared their experiences and some really powerful community was formed where I got to continue to learn about the world that I live in.
MM: What other projects are you working on right now and what themes and/or people’s lives might you like to explore in future works?
CF: After Manifesting Mrs. Marx, I get to perform as Karen (and A Karen) in Fareeda Ahmed’s “Olympians” about who can be the wokest at The Work Olympics https://tbtb.org/ TBTB’s 3RD PLAYMAKERS’ REDUX: OUT OF THE BOX May 19th – 22nd at Theatre Row! and then following this my extended reality artistic collective XRE, will be hosting various events as part of #MakeUsVisible https://www.xrensemble.com/ presenting digital sculptures of gender diverse figures juxtaposed against statues of men across the five boroughs of New York City with an interactive map guiding viewers to 31 virtual monuments shown in Augmented Reality, while an audio tour I made with my colleague She’s Excited! https://www.shes-excited.com/ tells the stories of each sculpture.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
CF: I would love to secure a immersive technological hybrid financially supported residency where I can further develop Manifesting Mrs. Marx incorporating Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and smart contracts where audience can engage more directly in the control of puppeteering Mrs. Marx as a metaphor for controlling their own inner turmoil and light as an individual and a collective at large, and addressing what it means to own various limbs, metrics and qualities of the “Puppeteered Mrs. Marx”. The piece fundamentally explores the effect fragmentation has in any sense on the essence of the human spirit and asks whether the addiction to binary thinking is a useful one to human evolution. So, I would love to build a high-tech version of the show exploring these elements and perform it on a mainstage in NYC and London and keep sharing the piece with the world.
* * * * * *
To learn more, visit: https://www.sharkpartymedia.com/mrsmarx