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 have 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 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 strengths… 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 writers 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 for 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 overnight 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! Sometimes problems take time to solve and explore. 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 toward 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 Consider Our Assets and 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.