MARCIA SOMMERFORD

Actor/ Singer/ Bookworm

 

I interviewed Marcia on a gorgeous Friday afternoon after strolling down the river in the afternoon light with French Earl Grey teas, and later attempting to impress her with my sweet potato and broccoli hot cakes.

 

Ellie: My first question to you is what do you love?

 

Marcia: My husband is my first immediate response to that. My family. My husband and my family. I think we can get very tied up in the idea that we are what we do, especially when you do something as vocational as acting, because you put your everything in to it and you take it home with you, even if you try not to. I’ve had so much bleed over from the show I’m currently doing, like the songs in my head the whole time, but it’s very calming to come home to someone who is real and tangible and always there and I love that. I hadn’t properly worked in theatre for the three years since I met my husband and I was saying to him today it’s amazing going back in to it, and performing every night – how stable it feels compared to how it used to. And if it’s not too vomity to say it, that’s what love does, it gives you an amazing grounding and stability.

 

Ellie: In life, what makes your heart sing?

 

Marcia: I love music. Not necessarily musical theatre music, any kind of music. Music from my youth especially, because it’s so evocative. I love playing music; I’ve recently started learning the ukelele and I like to have a sing-song on that, sometimes with my mum.

 

Ellie: That makes my heart sing.

 

Marcia: Being outdoors. Oh my god, I had never realised that until the past few years I guess.

 

Ellie: I think it’s an age thing.

 

Marcia: I think it’s an age thing, I was going to say, I think post-thirty –

 

Ellie: (whispers) I’m not post-thirty.

 

Marcia: Sh. Whatever age, for me, personally, I think it’s been post-thirty, just getting outside. And breathing deeply. God it sounds ridiculous, but it’s magical. No matter what the weather, getting away from the city, or just getting outside in the city.

 

Ellie: I think that the rare moments when we catch ourselves off-guard and the endless chatter of our brain is rendered speechless, 99% of the time I’d say it’s to do with the outdoors, it’s when you see that sunset or when you are caught off-guard by a moment of beauty. It’s very rarely related to a screen; our indoor lives.

 

Marcia: It’s very true. Because it affects all your senses, the smells and sounds and sights.

 

Ellie: It makes you more present, it brings you in to the moment. With things like TV and our phones, it’s all just one big escape from our present moment.

 

Marcia: It’s an escape and we’re not even content doing one of those things nowadays; I sit and watch telly and I’m on my phone, and I think ‘I’m literally scrambling my brain’, killing off my brain cells.

 

Ellie: Right, I’m going to ask you the hardest question of the interview: What do you love about yourself? (long pause) Now, Marcia currently is looking like she’s going to be sick.

 

Marcia: I’m glad there are many receptacles around.

 

Ellie: I think it is the hardest thing to talk about what we love about ourselves however I don’t feel that I can provide a platform for women to celebrate each other without them finding a way to celebrate themselves.

 

Marcia: Uh. You’re so wise beyond your years Ellie Nunn. I think you’re right, I think it is important, and I think we are not encouraged to because that doesn’t make money. The fashion, make up and beauty industries make money by telling us that we’re never going to be good enough and by constantly changing the goal posts: “This year you’ve got to be thin”, “this year you’ve got to be thin with small boobs”, “this year you’ve got to be thin with big boobs”, “this year you’ve got to have a butt”; so no, we don’t often get encouraged to love ourselves. I know I’m avoiding the question. And even if it’s not something physical, even our mental and personality traits, it feels somehow big-headed, and I know that is something I would never want someone to think I am. I would loathe someone to feel “God she’s full of herself”. A fear of arrogance. Especially as a woman. because that’s not attractive. That’s a very masculine trait, it’s not very feminine to be arrogant.

 

Ellie: Yes, that’s something Emma and I spoke about last week, we spoke briefly about how interesting it is that arrogance is seen as an attractive quality in men, I mean that’s a generalisation, but the ‘cock-sure’ thing is definitely attractive in men and not in women. It’s an undeniable type that some people are attracted to. It’s so true what you’re saying, it’s almost as if, if we were content, not just in how we look but in everything within ourselves, then we wouldn’t be wanting for anything, so it’s not just the fashion and diet industry. We probably wouldn’t need that new hoover if we were happy in our lives with what we had.

 

Marcia: I really love how you said ‘new hoover’. Yes, you’re right, that’s everything that the advertisement business is built on.

 

Ellie: So prove them wrong.

 

Marcia: Okay… I love… Jesus Christ this is so hard. You know what, I love that I’m not prepared to settle. That’s a character trait I really love and I can really thank my mum for that one actually. She tried to instill in me a very high sense of self-worth, and unfortunately it’s not necessarily translated with my physical attributes, but I think I have always known my worth as a person, or even if I haven’t known it, at the back of my mind if I’ve been in a shitty relationship or a shitty job, I’ve always thought ‘You do deserve better than this’ and I think a lot of people maybe don’t hear that enough, either from others or themselves. So I love that. Also I love that I’m always striving for new experiences. Especially knowledge-wise. Like when you said ‘I’ve got this book for you”, I was like “yes bring it to me, I want to know more”.

 

Ellie: I’m big on self-improvement. It can become quite addictive. You’ve got to be careful that it’s self improvement and it’s not setting yourself unachievable goals of self improvement so that you’re never satisfied. I was listening to the most amazing interview with Noma Dumezweni on the Honest Actors Podcast – who I am obsessed with and my ultimate dream is to interview her for this – and she was chatting about the dilemma of not being able to love yourself, and she said something about how maybe our fear isn’t that we’re not good enough, what really scares us, especially as actors, is that we do think we’re good enough, and that we wouldn’t still be doing this if we didn’t – I don’t think any actor would keep going if they didn’t think that they had something special. We’re also being told a lot that we have something, what’s horrible is that the world doesn’t seem to be affirming that, the industry isn’t affirming us, so really our big fear is that we think we are good enough and that we’re wrong, not that we don’t think we’re good enough. And I think a lot of that comes down to us not being able to say what we love in ourselves. I can’t say why I think I’m a good actor, which is madness, it’s my job. And I know why I think I’m a good actor, I just don’t think I can say it, because what if I’m wrong?

 

Marcia: I had to do that the other day on the phone, I had a telephone interview with an agent. It was a cast-mate’s agent and she said to me beforehand: “Oh I’ve had this chat before, just go in and sell yourself”, and those words are terrifying, and I had to say to this agent “I think I’m really good at this onstage and these are my strengths” and it felt really nice to say it, and to have her say ‘yes, agreed’.

 

Ellie: That’s it isn’t it: it feels empowering when we do say it, if we could just take away the shame in celebrating ourselves. What’s the biggest challenge you are facing in your life right now.

 

Marcia: Figuring out how to fit it all in, really. The past – how long have we been doing this show now? Three… five…

 

Ellie: Years.

 

Marcia: (laughs) A lifetime. Six weeks or so, isn’t it? And we build this little world and for me it’s been interesting trying to fit that in with my home life because my husband works so we don’t always see each other; sometimes we are like ships in the night. And he is my anchor – oop shit metaphor – so I think it’s tricky to fit all of that together. And then on the bigger scale being a thirty three year-old woman and knowing that I do want to have children and figuring out how to fit that in, because I’m kind of terrified by the idea of it: changing my identity and not being able to be the best mother that I can be and it changing the way I feel about everything.

 

Ellie: Thank you so much, that’s amazing. And also I know exactly what you mean: I’ve got to be careful because we’re going to run out of time because I keep talking, but the idea of fitting it all in when you are doing a show, I find that hard as well. Marrying your work life and your personal life, when your work is so personal, When it often involves falling in love with these amazing groups of people, to not make that your everything and not start getting your intimacy from there because it’s so exciting and therefore not needing it at home, but not wanting to miss out by being at home all the time.

 

Marcia: Absolutely.

 

Ellie: What do you love about women? It’s so general.

 

Marcia: It is so general but it’s also very specific. There’s so many different things I love about different women. It’s a difficult one.

 

Ellie: I think maybe what I was thinking when I wrote it what what do you get from women, that you love?

 

Marcia: I think lots of inspiration in many different ways, probably more so than men, because generally I think – huge sweeping generalization here – but I think men kind of have an easier ride of things and quite often women have a lot more to deal with, even in a simple biological sense. So yeah. And silly things like what people are wearing.

 

Ellie: I love style. I LOVE style on other women, I don’t think that’s silly at all.

 

Marcia: I find it inspiring seeing what other women are wearing and are doing with themselves and their bodies – it’s such a massive form of self-expression. Um. What else?

 

Ellie: It’s hard with this question, I think, for the question not to invite a load of stereotypes about women; I understand it’s hard not to make massive sweeping statements about women and what women are. So I need to look at that. Speaking of being inspired, which women inspire you and why?

 

Marcia: I’ve got to say my mum, really. She’s had an illness since she was twenty-nine, since I was three years old; she has had rheumatoid arthritis since then and she is just the epitome of the phrase ‘full of beans’. I don’t know where she gets all her beans from. I don’t want to go in to it too much because it’s her life, but she’s had a shit-ton of hardships basically and a lot to do with the disease and she’s still kicking its ass and I don’t know what I would have done in her position or how I would have coped with it. And I don’t know how I would have coped without her in my life to show me that that’s how you deal with stuff. I find her very inspiring.

 

Ellie: On the flip-side to the last question, what, if any, assumptions to you find you tend to make about other women?

 

Marcia: That they’re judging me. I assume that they generally have their shit together more than I do.

 

Ellie: I think it’s interesting, I don’t know many women who would say they dress for men. I think most girls dress to impress other women. Like when we worry when we get up in the morning and get dressed, we’re not worried about our boyfriend or a male friend judging what we’re wearing, we’re worried another girl will be like ‘she looks shit’.

 

Marcia: Yup. Absolutely. I worry they’re judging what I wear, what I say. I have that constant voice going ‘oh is that what you mean, are you saying what you think you mean?’ The voice inside.

 

Ellie: Do you get the guilty feminist thing as well? Where it’s like I want to talk about this but I’m scared of saying the wrong feminist thing, God forbid, I don’t want to let down the sisterhood.

 

Marcia: Or when I wear my ‘toxic masculinity ruins the party again’ t-shirt, if I say something that’s not inherently feminist that people will say ‘oo but your wearing that t-shirt how could you say that?’

 

Ellie: I tell you what I have a lot, is an assumption that other girls don’t worry about how liked they are, that they are naturally really likable. I assume, without even realising, that a) they’re not trying, they’re just effortlessly likable and b) they’re not thinking about how liked they are.

 

Marcia: It had NEVER occurred to me that other girls…were trying (laughs).

 

Ellie: I know, I hadn’t thought about it until I just said that, that other girls worry about how liked they are. Massive revelation moment there. For you which stigma surrounding women has got to go?

 

Marcia: There’s too many. Owning how smart you are. Don’t be afraid to be smart.

 

Ellie: Right, we want to support strong, intelligent women up to a point. Or we want to support strong, intelligent women until we have to deal with one. I’m saying ‘we’ as if I’m speaking for all men here. ‘We’ the patriarchy. For me I can’t stand the stigma that girls can only be liked if they slightly dumb themselves down. I think I’ve done it.

 

Marcia: I’ve totally done it. I was once told that men want a girlfriend who is more attractive and less intelligent than them. Whoop.

 

Ellie: How, for you, has gender affected you at work?

 

Marcia: I think in most pieces of theatre that I have been in I have played someone’s wife; that’s defined the role, except for one set of plays I did written by a woman, all about women, and it was so goddamn lovely to play iconic historical characters and for that to be the focus of the piece. Not their relationships, not their husband and what they were doing, it was about the women and you don’t get chances like that very often. So that has affected it, what roles I’ve been able to play. I definitely used to be a ‘half-sentence’ person in rehearsals. Like “I feel like-”, “Can I just say-”, and I’d never get it out. And I think you’ve just got to go for it, and even if someone tries to speak over you, just keep that eye contact and keep going with what you were saying. I’ve just decided to be unapologetic. And if I don’t have anything to say that’s fine as well, but if I do, deciding to say it.

 

Ellie: Have you ever felt ashamed as a result of being a woman?

 

Marcia: When I had my first set of headshots done: it was with a male photographer, and he’d come really highly recommended and everyone said his work was amazing, and I’d just had my hair all cut off and it was quite a strong look and I was feeling very confident and I walked in and he said ‘Great, love your look, really strong, nice dark hair color, I don’t know what we’re going to do about the Desperate Dan chin but we’ll work with it, it’s fine”. And I just thought “my what? my Desperate Dan chin? Before you’ve taken any photos of me you’ve made me feel less of a woman by comparing me to a male cartoon character and you’ve made me feel awful about being there. And I’m going to pay £300 for this privilege?” He definitely made me feel like less of a woman. So there was that. Brutal.

 

Ellie: What is one bit of advice you wish you had been given or you wish you could give your younger self?

 

Marcia: Just do what you love, do what you really love. because if you don’t you’ll regret that. That’s literally all I would tell her, little chubby, glasses wearing, Maths-loving Marcia.

 

Ellie: She sounds awesome. So part of these interviews is to encourage communication between women, so I have a question from the wonderful Emma Powell; her burning question that she felt need to be asked was how do we make women feel safe in their workplace?

 

Marcia: Ooh that’s a good question Emma. By listening to them. By listening to whatever they’ve got to say really. The reason they feel unsafe is because they’re not being heard. It’s communication really. I feel, there’s a lot more to it that maybe just that.

 

Ellie: I’m trying to think as well. I find it really difficult that once we start listening to women, it’s about thirty seconds after that the word ‘witch-hunt’ gets thrown out. It’s so fast on its heels. Now I understand why the word is there, I’m not naive, but I also find it difficult. I personally, during the ‘Me Too’ campaign came forward as having been sexually abused as a teenager, but a week later I don’t think I would have come out and said that, because already people were being accused of hysteria and pointing fingers, and the word ‘witch-hunt’ is the biggest turn-off for encouraging people to come forward and be honest. So many women are frightened of being accused of lying, or exaggeration, or misinterpretation, or misunderstanding. If we could just take a moment to look at the workspace and encourage communication about how women feel , and leave that word out of it. But it feels like every time steps are taken someone throws out ‘witch-hunt’ and we all take three steps back and retreat back into our shame and silence. So that would be my contribution.

 

Marcia: I think that’s sadly accurate and I think as well as listening there needs to be a measure of JUST listen. Just listen. Don’t try and solve the problem in the moment, just listen. And acknowledge that all women’s fears aren’t going to be the same, just fucking listen.

 

Ellie: That’s so true what you just said about fears. perhaps another step would be to start listening to what we’re frightened of rather than what’s already happened. Looking at prevention rather than the cure. To start understanding where our behavior comes from and our hesitancy or fear or intimidation, why that’s there. So last question…Marcia Sommerford… what is one question you feel needs to be asked?

 

Marcia: Oh God…Emma’s was so good. It’s kind of along the lines of what do you love about yourself but I want to know: what is your proudest achievement as a woman?

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