Eye of the beholder

Elizabeth McCarthy’s one-woman play, Scopophilia: Into the Eye of the Sun, explores voyeurism, feminism and a cultural icon.

Elizabeth McCarthy channels Mata Hari in Scopophilia.
Elizabeth McCarthy channels Mata Hari in Scopophilia.

There's laying your soul bare on the stage, then there's Elizabeth Anne McCarthy. With her one-woman play, Scopophilia: Into the Eye of the Sun, McCarthy draws inspiration from her day job as a life model at NSCAD, setting her tale of dual identities, voyeurism, feminism and violence in a life drawing class. McCarthy plays Marina, a model who is obsessed with Mata Hari.

"I've always had an interest in themes of feminism, when I came across the story of Mata Hari I wanted to do a story that touched on those things," says McCarthy. "I saw all of these types of elements clicking in place with this unfinished story I had in my head; Marina's got something that she wants to tell the class, the narrative arc is her coming to what she has to tell them. She starts off having a secret, and the journey you take in the middle is her struggles within her self, with her work, experiencing violence as a woman, being depersonalized. All of that is a big soup in her mind that she's sorting through and her escape valve is her daydreams about Mata Hari."

Written by McCarthy and developed with director Christopher Little, Scopophilia premieres in Halifax after a trip abroad. While still in development the play was accepted by Fringe Festival Praha in Prague, Czech Republic, where it premiered in June. McCarthy has been itching to show the play to Halifax audiences, without whom it wouldn't exist. Through fans' generous contributions to McCarthy's Indiegogo campaign, she was able to take the play to Prague.

"It was a good, gentle festival," says McCarthy. The festival provided an opportunity for the performing artists to give much appreciated feedback, and to support each other's shows. "On an artist to artist level it was fantastic, it was a level playing field."

That's something that McCarthy wishes to continue in Halifax, specifically within the female theatre community. "I'm starting a women's theatre collective called Dollhouse City, sort of inspired by Lunasea or Once Upon A Time Theatre Collective," says McCarthy. "I don't want to make it as formal as a company but I do want to have something that allows for the community to come together and share resources. I still see a need for that focus in Halifax.

"It's going to be like a free-forming amoeba I suppose, we'll come together when we need to."

Thematically, Scopophilia is proudly feminist. Dealing with taboos, perception of women in society and personal agency. McCarthy felt that the "über-feminine" accused spy Mata Hari embodied the depth of a woman's experience. "Among the things I'm interested in exploring is women's power and emotion and how women behave in society--- the range of emotion versus what society expects from them.

"Mata Hari had been an artist's model, she had a physically abusive husband, she fled him in 1903. She insisted on a legal divorce which was so unheard of. She ended up penniless in Paris," says McCarthy. "But she stuck me as someone who was a fighter, it sounds like such a cliche but in a time when there was so little resources for women, social services-wise, she more than survived, she became a cultural archetype."

Above all else, McCarthy is proud to be able to perform a play that had such strong support right out of the gate at home. She even received an outpouring of support from drawing students, who gave her drawings to use on set.

"It had to be here in Halifax before it went anywhere else, that was very important to me," she says. "It's not lost on me that the community supported a show they haven't even seen." >

Scopophilia: Into the Eye of the Sun
November 29-December 1, 8pm The Bus Stop Theatre 2203 Gottingen Street $12/$15/$20 scopophilia.in.halifax@gmail.com

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