Fire And Rain…

Director & Writer  Noel Anderson

Director & Writer
Noel Anderson

Sometimes life imitates art…So said Oscar Wilde in his essay The Decay of Lying. I started writing this weeks ago, since then mental health and depression has really been in the spotlight given the death of comedian Robin Williams. I wasn’t going to publish this post online as I felt enough had already been said on the net about the subject but as the days passed, I thought it worthwhile. In my life I have seen several friends fall on hard times and into depression. I’ve also had someone very close to me fail at an attempted suicide. I read a comment on online that most people with depression don’t want your words of advice they want your hugs. I found this statement beautiful in its simplicity. On with my story 🙂

The writers I admire all have one thing in common, they are bold. They don’t hide and aren’t afraid to tell it as it is. They also have a strong sense of character and a sense of what’s right and wrong in the world, and through their words want to educate and inform. We have a certain responsibility as artists I think to leave the world a better place. Theatre is one artistic form that looks at social issues. This is one of its great strength… examples include Angels in America, Extremities and The Removalist.

The two best pieces of advice I was ever given at NIDA’s Playwright’s Studio was to write what I know and never edit myself at the start of a writing project. This advice has been invaluable to me when I write. I have worked with writer’s who block and edit at an early stage, and as a director I have worked with actors that block at an early stage of rehearsals too and it is just so frustrating. I believe you really need to free yourself at the beginning of a project and go wherever your creativity takes you.

As time goes on good writers learn to move away from themselves, or they like to think they have, and write about things they know nothing about… this is where research comes in handy. At the heart of most creative writing though is the heart of the author, and often it’s the pain the author has suffered that drives an idea. I should point out that three writers have worked on the book of Audrey Hepburn and I Consider Our Assets. The original story I directed at Chapel Off Chapel when I was part of the new work directorate. It was one of the first plays chosen by the directorate and I was one of the first directors selected to run a workshop. It was written by Gaylene Carbis and told of a young woman with voices in her head, her movie obsessed family, her therapy sessions and her growing pains. The response was tremendous from the sold-out crowd. It connected. In the audience at the time was Geoff Main who wanted to see it done as a musical.

One idea that has been explored thoroughly in the new musical version of Audrey Hepburn and I Consider Our Assets is the therapy sessions. I’ve never asked Gaylene if she ever had therapy…I don’t know why but the therapy sessions intrigued me even in the original story. When I brought in Cerise De Gelder to help me keep the female voice in the story strong and to help explore what we had, the draft I got back had expanded the therapy sessions even further and added plot twists. Once again, I never asked Cerise if she had ever had therapy. Now, let me put this out there now on the net, I have had therapy and I found the sessions completely empowering. I understand why it wouldn’t work for everybody but I really grew from the experience. What went wrong with me? As my therapist put it, “nothing went wrong…you are just being asked to deal with more than you can handle on your own, so you asked someone else to help you get through it.” Thank God I had the smarts not to listen to what anyone other than a professional had to say. Thinking back, I can see I certainly had depression but that wasn’t clear to me at the time. Something else, I found the relationship between the therapist and patient very similar to the one between actor and director. It’s a delicate balance, a caring balance, based on trust and honesty. The slightest step in the wrong direction and the relationship comes crashing down like a house of cards.

Like every relationship, there are highs and there are lows. And, my therapy sessions certainly had them. I even believe my therapist found my stories amusing, because I always love to entertain even when depressed. I remember him being shocked by my frankness on subjects and my overall honesty about myself and my ego. But, what I found hard to believe was the feeling of loss that I felt when I finally told my therapist I had to move on, and that it was time to end our sessions. The feeling of loss I wasn’t prepared for. It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I remember sitting in a cafe called the Old Paper Mill in South Melbourne and ordering lunch in a daze of grief. It was like losing a best friend, a lover, a family member who you’d shared your most intimate thoughts with. I never forgot that feeling of sorrow.

So, when I sat down to write my words and edit Audrey Hepburn and I Consider Our Assets, as I worked through the girl’s work first, the memory of those therapy sessions came flooding back and I started to write. I wrote like a man possessed, writing over night and writing for hours nonstop. Strangely, once I left my therapist, mental health became an obsession for me and I found myself reading and even attending workshops on the subject. I remember being shocked to learn that 25% of the Australian population at any one time are suffering from some form of mental health problem or depression. I thought that was very high at the time.

Now, I had people tell me outside those workshops they didn’t believe in depression at all and people need to just get on with things in their life and stop whinging! Some of these people I considered friends. Shut the front door… I felt like screaming at them, are you mad! Sometime problems take time to solve and exploration. I rejected this opinion and in some cases let go of the friendships. I think as captain of your own mind you should steer the ship and not be influenced by others and their opinions on when to next leap forward in your life. I think an important part of the healing process is to take ownership of yourself…warts and all. That’s why I reckon behind every artist is a story waiting to be told or a song waiting to be sung.

Of course, Audrey Hepburn and I Consider Our Assets is a musical and looks at mental health and the relationship between patient and therapist in a romantic and musical way. I guess everybody needs a fantasy. I can honestly say I never felt any romantic feelings towards my therapist… but that’s where the writer’s imagination has really kicked in. I also felt Audrey Hepburn, as she appears in her movies, the perfect choice to offer advice on love and life to our leading lady from Glen Huntley, Liz O’Sullivan. This then was my mindset, as I wrote and as I edited Audrey Hepburn and I consider Our assets.

So does life imitate art or does art imitate life? I guess you’ll have to see the musical Audrey Hepburn and I to find out the answer. What I do know is that underneath every great musical story is the fire and rain of life, and I am certain the girls and myself have whipped up a couple of cups full of fire and rain between us in the script. Audrey Hepburn and I Consider Our Assets is a musical with heart, love and song. As Audrey Hepburn warns, we should never give our hearts to a wild thing!

Remember, support Australian musicals and tell your friends and like Audrey Hepburn and I Consider Our Assets on Facebook. Goodnight Melbourne, hello Australia. Enjoy the song Watching Me.


Facebook: An Unlikely Lover

"Two parallel love stories, both virtual, both intense and life altering."

“Two parallel love stories, both virtual, both intense and life altering.”

Where does our real life begin and end? How do you feed a lonely soul? What’s it like to feel powerless over your relationship or a virtual situation? How long can you stay sane and remain faithful to a passionless lover? Where does Facebook fit into all of this? Early this year at a writer’s meeting in Docklands I met a lovely author called Ping who had written a book about an unlikely love, a virtual love affair. There was something in her attitude I liked and I sensed a strong free spirit. We agreed to meet through the week and have lunch at a little cafe I knew in the Queen Vic building. We sat in the laneway outside the cafe and we chatted about our personal likes. I liked theatre, Ping liked martial arts. She was married with three children, lived in Singapore. I’d struggled my adult life in the arts, lived in Melbourne. During conversation I began to suspect that this was the start of a new friendship, my creative soul was reaching out to connect to other writers (at times you can feel trapped in your own creative endeavours, sometimes it good to immerse yourself into another artist’s world, if only for a moment). So I sat and sipped my coffee, ate and chatted with Ping and the conversation flowed easily. After lunch Ping suddenly pulled a novel, a cap and a card out of her bag as a gift. I was flattered. The book she gave me was titled 10726 in Two Months. It was her first novel she explained, available on Amazon. She was proud I could tell. What’s it about I asked? It’s about an unlikely love affair between two writers on Facebook, Lim Shi Yi and Mark Fallon, living on opposite sides of world and their work…two parallel love stories, both intense. A Facebook romance I thought, set in virtual and real time. As a regular Facebook users I was immediately attracted to this idea. I’d had my share of romances, more than most people but I’d never had a virtual one. I read the book the next few months on the tram to work, I sensed in the lead character of Lim Shi Yi , a longing that I related too. There was disappointment in life, hard not to have after you reach thirty-five and have been there and done that, but also in the character there was a creative and active mind…a way of escape from the hardship that life can hurl at you. It suddenly seemed to me that we have a choice today to live in the real world or to hide behind an avatar, an online persona, and live out our wildest fantasies in virtual reality. Who are you in your story Ping? Are you Lim Shi Yi?…I pondered. Who is the real me?…I thought. Am I the man in front of the monitor eating a ham, cheese and tomato sandwich, typing in bed or am I the persona beyond in virtual reality…the persona of my dreams that other people read about and see on Facebook. As a writer, director and artist you struggle to find the truth inside a character, you dig for it in yourself too, but there can be a lot of lies behind a keyboard, truth can be hard to find and people are not always in the virtual world, who they say they are in real life.
Many years ago a close friend fell in love so he said, with someone he first spotted on Facebook via a mate’s profile. (Remember how you’d cruise profiles when you first setup Facebook?) Later he saw the profile of the person he fancied on an adult dating site and plucked up courage on Facebook to connect…click…friend request sent and connected. Over several months, my friend went through the process of having a relationship with this person without ever hooking up in the real world. His virtual relationship had highs and lows but eventually came to an abrupt end when the object of my mate’s affection clicked unfriend… Goodbye Facebook lover! The virtual relationship was never ever consummated. I recall distraught coffee conversations with my mate in tears over something his virtual lover had said, in text…once they didn’t chat for a week and I thought my friend was going to blow a fuse. When I confessed over a beer that I just didn’t get his pain, I was verbally attacked and I had no other choice but to wiggle out of the conversation and change the topic. What I don’t get about the virtual love is that it appears to connect with people who should know better. My mate was smart, funny but naive when it came to an online romance and real life romance in general. Maybe even a little desperate too. That said I did have someone who use to talk dirty on the phone while I stuffed spoonfuls of icecream into my mouth on the other end, all in the safely of my lounge chair. Very erotic…hardly. But, that was a long time ago, on phone chat lines and they are so yesterday don’t you think? It’s the Internet and social media that rule today. What’s next after Facebook, and after Tinder, and so on. Where do we go from here in our quest to meet a partner?
Did you click single or married on Facebook? Have you had a life event happen today and did you let Facebook know? Have you announced the start of a new romance on Facebook? Am I living my life in the moment or do I only come to life on Facebook… in a virtual reality? I found myself asking a lot of questions as I read 10726 in Two Weeks…with so much at our finger tips to help us communicate I wondered, are we communicating or are we disconnecting? Are we being romanced with each click or being left high and dry and being given the digital finger! The lead character in Ping’s book is a writer, she can conjure up physical contact for her characters in her story easier than finding love in her real life. (Sometimes I feel the same) In the book Lim Shi Yi has to choose between family and success or chance it on virtual love. What would you choose?
The book is called 10276 in Two Months by Giork Ping Ang is available on Amazon. 10276 is the number of love messages chatted in two months between the characters, Mark Fallon, a screenwriter from England, and Lim Shi Yi is a poet and novelist from Singapore. Each day they write on Facebook and after each exchange, they die a little more. If you have ever daydreamed on the Internet or fantasized about meeting the next best thing online, this book is worth a read. Ps. Ping if you are reading this in Singapore on Facebook, we are now at the virtual stage of our friendship, see you soon in the real world.

Two parallel love stories, both virtual, both intense and life altering.

Two parallel love stories, both virtual, both intense and life altering.