'Tis Pity She's a Whore

Marion Potts’ talks about ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore – An Interview

Copyrighted to ArtsHub.

Marion Potts is the new Artistic Director of the Malthouse and is launching her first season with John Ford’s notorious production of 1633:‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Arts Hub’s Dione Joseph shares a very special conversation revealing Potts’ goals and commitments to the Malthouse and also to the theatre community, in what promises to be a very exciting year.ArtsHub: Marion, your first production as Artistic Director is an interesting start to the New Year – could you share the story of why you chose ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore?

Marion Potts: It’s a play I’ve wanted to do for sometime. Every director has their wish list of plays that they get to eventually and I uncovered it a couple of years ago and it struck me as a very contemporary piece of writing. The sheer courage of Ford to be writing about the themes he does at that particular point of time throws a challenge – and one that we need to respond to.

In addition, many of the themes he dealt with are just as relevant today, because while the incest is only the inciting action for the play, it is what follows after that throws up all sort of moral inconsistencies. The play is more about moral relativism rather there being any one singular right or wrong answer. Ultimately, what I find is difficult and confronting, is that one comes out questioning whether that relationship which is categorized as taboo, is in fact better than any of the other relationships on stage.

AH: During your rehearsal of this work has anything in particular stood out or surprised you?

MP: I believe this a play that shows us the full spectrum of human potential. Certainly we see
characters who behave at their absolute worst in this play but we also have music that rivals that of angels so it displays the full spectrum of humanity. It’s really about unbalancing the moral comforts of society rather than examining the actions of two individual. But the thing I was surprised at was how it works as a suspense thriller. That also brings a contemporary dynamic to the work and really it is an electrifying plotline to bring to stage.

AH: Speaking of stages, not just as Director but also as Artistic Director, what plans have you got for developing the future of the Malthouse stage this year?

MP: Well, I hope there will be greater diversity in aesthetics and styles – but what I’m talking about is a long term plan. Diversity is what we need to aspire to – and today it maybe to try to register gender imbalance, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a host of other areas that need to be addressed. Diversity is about how we provide access to the theatre not just in terms of audience, but also in the kinds of people on stage and people who get opportunities to produce and direct.

But also and equally importantly, it’s about process – it’s about taking that work to the next level. By and large I believe that when works do not reach the highest possible level of success, it is not through lack of talent or imagination, but lack of resourcing and creative development time. So the idea, while still a long term goal, because it largely has to do with funding, is to provide residencies twice a year to address those imbalances.

To make a difference requires effort but also imagination, and I go back to Lee Lewis’ writing where she explains that (and here I’m paraphrasing) that if our stages are to be the representation of our imaginings we need to reflect the society we live in – and unfortunately we often don’t.

AH: If you could, and it is a complex matter which defies a single cause, what would you say are some of the main factors that have attributed to the lack of diversity in theatre today?

MP: As you said its way more complicated than I could possibly articulate with a whole web of social forces extending outside the theatre – but I believe it comes down to being much less literal in our approach. Colour blind casting does not have a great history in this country and audiences need to recognize that we’re not necessarily making a political statement and that therefore anyone, for example, should be able to Hamlet. Family relationships don’t need to make sense because theatre isn’t a medium of the literal.

AH: But it is a medium that has the power and does significantly shape us and our society. Would you agree?

MP: Absolutely! Theatre is a way I think we can change the world. We inherently have choice about who we are and by extension we have choice of shaping the society we live in. I think what’s great about Melbourne is that so many different sorts of theatre exist and each have their own equally valid positions. I hope that in the years to come the Malthouse would continue to be defined by a sense of adventure, a sense of formal risk taking so that we don’t replicate what other companies do but still reflect our commitment to the artistic merit of the projects we undertake so as to be instrumental in making a difference.

AH: And you, both personally and professionally have made a huge difference to the theatre world. What advice would you give to other aspiring theatre practitioners, women in particular?

MP: Firstly to always be true to what you want to do. Perseverance is essential. But I guess the thing I personally struggled with was to disconnect with those more negative voices who challenge your right to do this as a woman. Because in the end – the gender question is unhelpful. It is not what defines you as an artist. The quality of your ideas, your strengths, your instincts and your craft should not to be diverted from that focus by those negative voices that get into head.

Also, as you know, I’m not the first, there are and have been women such as Chris Westwood, Sue
Hill and Robyn Nevin (to name only a few) who have been pioneering change but it is necessary
to change the culture of companies so as to change the way we, as artists and individuals, are
perceived.

AH: And those core values of faith, perseverance and commitment to change are foundational stones in the culture of not only yourself, but also the Malthouse?

MP: Indeed they are. Because while Michael Kantor and I are obviously very different people I
believe we have very similar values at heart. And what needs to be at the crux of what we do is to display a shared humanity, a generosity of spirit which reflects an understanding of human success but also human failure.

AH: Which brings us full circle back to your latest production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Thank you so much for your time and your insights Marion and all the very best for your season’s first production.

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