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Monthly Archives: June 2015

When I first began this back at the end of 2013, I began it with a Christmas-time tale of my mother’s outrage.

It has evolved since then to become what has essentially become my fortnightly online confessional therapy; one that other people occasionally get or choose to read. I have chartered, as I’ve gone, the mess of 2014, my time in intensive care and rehabilitation, my scattered realisations across both and my increasingly desperate attempts to pick up the pieces of me that have hit the ground, shattered, splattered, and stayed there. To be honest, I forget, mostly, that people do bother to read this in the first place – I simply vomit out a collection of feelings or incidents; whatever’s been playing on my mind, then hit “publish” and forget about it. This has been an egotistical “experiment” that has continued to last a year and a half (minus a chunk in the middle where I was stuck in hospital, away from working internet or a working brain). In keeping this up, I have learnt a substantial amount about myself; or at least interrogated a substantial amount of myself.

In a sense, I’ve stumbled upon a new addiction – not alcohol or vitriol or anything else, but simply that of forcing myself to let shit go. (In fact, if this had a subtitle, it would be: “Letting Shit Go” – and the sub-subtitle would be “No, Seriously, Fucking Let It Go, Ya Dickhead.”). As the work has evolved, my relationship to it, too, has evolved – in late 2013 and early 2014 all I cared about was how many “likes” I could get; how much laughter I could receive. Though I would be lying if I said I didn’t care at all: even something as small as a singular Facebook like has the innate ability to put a spring in your step, and to say otherwise is an untruth. Now, however, I’m much less concerned with either of these responses and much more concerned with how much I can unburden from myself; how much I can pull out of me, hold up to the light and confront.

I think, in a sense, I’m a sadder individual than I first thought. Reading over a lot of this writing, I’m struck by how often I downplay my work, my goals and myself; by how much and how often fear rules so many aspects of my life. By how many times I’ve declared that this time – this, this time here, right now – I’ll sort myself out, stop caring about idiotic insecurities, stop beating myself up.

If I could point to a defining moment of the past few years, it would be – as much as I don’t want it to be – the events of the night of August 28, 2014. As much as I didn’t want to accept it, then, there were a lot of problems running deep and thick throughout countless aspects of my life. The manner in which I dealt with them up until that point was simple: I didn’t. Or, I drank. But knowing how close I came to death has been, for lack of a better term, a real kick up the arse. It’s forced me to stand up, on my own two feet, and confront those aspects about myself that I don’t like. My feeling, then, was simple: it’s not a huge problem YET. I’ll deal with it when it is. Well, almost dying tends to put things into perspective, and truth told, I’ve had enough. I can be better. I will be better. And I’m not there yet, but this is just a pitstop – a place I can stand, strong and proud (and scared, yes – I’m still working on that one) and take stock of where I started off, and where I am now.

Put simply? I’m not glad that the car accident happened, but I am glad for the majority of things that have come out of it. In terms of obstacles, this was a huge one – sitting ominous and leering and dark on the road in front of me, and I could have either fallen down and cried and given up, or scaled the fucking thing. And scale it I did. I am now much more secure and confident in myself and my abilities (even with the intense post-crash anxiety I’ve developed – I suppose that says more about my belief in myself beforehand then it does now). I’ve fixed my relationship, reconnected with friends that I love and laid out a plan for myself. I’ve written some several thousand words, a bit each week, completed a great many applications (the majority of which have been unsuccessful, but that’s the way it goes) and tried my hardest to at least begin transforming myself into someone that I want to be. I’ve treated getting hit by a car like a grant: blessed or cursed with the inability to work, I’ve found myself quite pleased with the way in which I’ve used my time; the amount I’ve gotten done.

When I boil it down in my own mind, at least, this book is about love. Not love for anyone else, or the desire to be loved – simply about pulling myself apart, looking myself in the eye and making the choice to love myself. Making the declaration: these bits are mine, and whatever else? I love them.

I think it’s fair to say that I haven’t figured out who Christopher Bryant is or the specifics of who he wants to be; but I’m still trying, for better or worse, and I want you to know that: I’m trying really hard. Harder than ever before. If you think you can come closer to figuring me out, please do – not that I believe I’m a particularly complex individual; no more than anyone reading this right now, or any of the other billion people currently populating this earth. Hopefully this’ll help you (or me) to figure it out.

(A collection of paranoid thoughts that have, at one point or another, crossed my mind with all the legitimacy and seriousness of regular, rational thought).

(A few of them might not be that paranoid.)

  1. That my psychiatrist is listening to me ramble and secretly thinking: this guy is crazy. Or worse, that she’s thinking about what to have for dinner that night.
  2. That the guy who drove the car that hit me is out there and waiting to find me so he can sue me for wrecking his property, which is apparently something you can do in Germany.
  3. That Charles Manson or Star will somehow know that I’ve written a play about them and come find me. With knives and terrible Beatles-esque music.
  4. That I’ll wake up one morning and find myself back in Spandau hospital. I’ll attempt to leave and they’ll push me back down – “Was denken Sie wo Sie gehen?” – and they’ll tell me I’ve been in a coma since August last year and that my parents in Australia will be so glad to hear that I’ve made it out.
  5. That I’ll have a “brain injury” moment and lose my keys somewhere in public and a mass murderer will find them and somehow figure out where I live and come visit.
  6. That I’ll become successful.
  7. That I won’t become successful.
  8. That all my friends in Sydney aren’t really my friends and actually sort of hate me, but feel obliged to humour me since I almost died.
  9. That the industry I want to work in is collapsing in on itself.
  10. That, stepping into the shower, I’ll slip and snap my spine in two and be makeshift-water boarded by the running showerhead over my paralysed face.
  11. That the addictive elements of my personality are currently lying dormant and quiet – too quiet – and in a few months time someone’ll offer me a hit of ice and for some dumb reason I’ll accept and it’ll all become much worse than it was before and I’ll end up hooking and meth-addicted on the streets. The streets of Sydney, no less.
  12. That I’m actually not able to forgive anyone – really forgive and mean it.
  13. That a heavy stream of rush-hour businessmen and women will continue to spill onto the tram or train I’m on and not stop, collectively breathing in all the air ‘till there’s nothing left and I drop to the ground, gasping for air like a dying goldfish while more people continue to cram in and crush my body to a fine flesh-and-blood-coloured pulp.
  14. That I’m actually a fraud but I’m so deep in my own delusion that even I can’t see it, but everyone else can.
  15. That I’ll bump into people I used to know from high school in a public forum and they’ll initiate conversation and ask: “so what’ve you been up to for the past 8 years?”…or worse, that they won’t; they’ll just try and talk about the weather.
  16. That everyone thinks I’m a lazy and inconsiderate person by not going to the majority of social outings I’m invited to and that I should just “try harder”.
  17. That I’ll be Facebook stalking someone and accidentally hit the “add friend” button and not realise.
  18. That the post-tooth-removal hole in my mouth hasn’t actually healed and is, in fact, beginning to turn gangrenous.
  19. That I’ll never get to go overseas again and it’ll be this one memory at the back of my brain of this one time I went overseas and it sucked. (It actually didn’t suck except for the “nearly dying” part but my brain, in this instance, is tricky.)
  20. That I’ll blink and suddenly be 45 and smoking menthol cigarettes and unfashionable and still doing tiny independent shows with no budget or class and a sharply declining quality.
  21. That I’m lying to myself and I’ve learned nothing from the events of the past year.

1.

In August of last year, I was hit by a car while on holiday in Berlin. A few months later I was having coffee with a friend when he mentioned that he’d heard some interest from Liz in a play I’d written (and later re-written during my time at NIDA) called Home Invasion. I was uncertain, but this friend insisted: I should contact Liz. Why not? What was there to lose?

Directing this show has been a terrifying process, but one I’m intensely thankful for. It has meant that the past two months of life have flown by; that I’ve had a series of rehearsals and script edits to occupy myself with instead of twiddling my thumbs and waiting to return back to NIDA with an increasingly paranoid sense of impending doom. It has also forced me to find my feet once more; to become comfortable inside a rehearsal room instead of stuck behind a MacBook.

Ostensibly, this play is about obsession. Obsession over an idea, a person, a televised music competition. But in another sense, it’s about more. It’s about ruined aspirations. About reaching out and getting close, as close as possible, but not close enough. About dreams and expectations. And humour. It’s also about humour because nobody wants to be yelled at for an hour and a half, least of all me. It’s also about cracking open the numerous obsessive elements rooted deep within my personality and asking: why?

Last year I studied under playwright Stephen Sewell, an inspirational and extremely opinionated man.

“I always think,” Stephen said. “If you have something to say, just say it. There’s no point faffing around; if you have a point to get across, then why not save us all a great deal of time and just get it across?”

And this is what was different the second time around, as I wrote the version of the script you’re about to see: I was not afraid to say what I needed to say, to yell it out loud if necessary. This play is about the relentlessness of feeling like there’s a chance, no matter how small, that you just won’t make it; that you’re not good enough. Seems appropriate for a NIDA student who almost died.

So, I think: why not? What is there to lose?

I’m not sure I could think of a more caring, more dedicated group of artists with which to reintroduce myself to the world of theatre. Thank you.

2.

And I am 21, and it is early December of 2009. I am standing in my parents’ kitchen, the hot brown linoleum sticking fast to the naked soles of my feet as I wait for my father’s gargantuan silver coffee machine to heat up and get to work. As I wait my mobile phone begins to ring with a number I do not recognise.

“Hello?” I answer. It’s probably a telemarketer.

“Hi Chris,” a woman’s voice replies warmly. “It’s Yvonne calling from student theatre. Just calling to say we loved your application and if you’re still interested we’d love to have Marat/Sade as part of our season next year.” I had, perhaps a month earlier, pitched to direct Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade as part of their following season, and she, apparently, liked my pitch.

“Oh!” I say. “Yes. Sure. I’d… I’d love to,” I say, holding on to what little tranquillity hasn’t escaped my body as the conversation comes to an end. My voice wavers as I reply, belying the intense waves of excitement overcoming my body.

“We’ll have a meeting with all the shows in the season, but ‘till then there’s not much else to do, so just enjoy it!”

We exchange pleasantries, and hang up. Inside my head rings out a shrill, high-pitched scream of excitement.

And I am still 21 and it is late August of the following year, in the thick of Marat/Sade rehearsals as winter violently and persistently continues to tighten its vice grip on Melbourne. I am on break from rehearsal, standing with a selection of my cast, all huddled together like a smattering of early-20s aged Emperor Penguins, rapidly inhaling and exhaling smoke from my second menthol cigarette.

“Break’s supposed to have ended a minute ago,” Lucy, our stage manager, comments drily as she sticks her head out of the rehearsal room and into the cold. “Pack it up and move it in.”

An image of how much work we have left to do flashes through my skull – a lot, but thankfully we’re only a few weeks into rehearsal – and how much more rehearsal we’ll need to make everyone actually turn up. I blanch, and rapidly inhale the rest of the cigarette; flicking it to the ground, stamping on it and selecting another.

“Five more minutes,” I say.

“We’ve only got an hour and a half left –“ Lucy begins.

“I’m the director, and I say five more minutes.” I snap back, grabbing the arm of a nearby cast member who’s packing her cigarettes away as I do. “No, it’s okay,” I say. “We have five more minutes. Smoke another one.”

Perhaps it’s a flash of kindness. Probably it’s the intense mania in my voice, but Lucy shakes her head and quietly returns into the room.

“Five more minutes,” I mutter to myself as I smoke contentedly.

3. 

It is half a year later and I am 22 and riding on a high after the opening night of another show I’ve directed, a particularly well received King Lear. The room is abuzz with positivity and excitement, and I’m onto my third mug of wine and feeling like this feeling could or should last forever.

So good,” a voice nearby says, and I listen in despite myself. “And like, it wasn’t even a good Shakespeare company show,” – the Monash Shakespeare Company have been renowned for putting on atrociously rendered misunderstandings of William’s work, coupled with sloppy direction and dramaturgy – “it was just a good show.”

I beam, and refill my cup. It’s been a long text-based three months, with each scene and each character’s movements across the traverse stage plotted out and relentlessly rehearsed time and time again, but it’s been worth it.

4.

And I am 23, now, in early 2012 mid-notes session in rehearsal with a small collection of students for what has been dubbed the “Caulfield O-Show.” In general it’s been a complete hell of a time, owing predominantly to the fact that I thought I’d be “fine” to work with a particularly petty ex-boyfriend of mine instead of swiftly removing him from the cast when he removed me from his life.

“I can’t hear your line,” I say. “And we need to hear it as it’s not only one of the important facts about the campus, but if nobody hears what you’re saying they won’t be able to follow the plot.” The plot itself is incredibly simple, so for an audience member to not be able to follow it, he’d have to be speaking incredibly quietly.

The ex-boyfriend surreptitiously rolls his eyes and crosses his legs. “Yeah, I just – it’s just not really in my character to do that.”

A million vitriol-filled responses flit through my head as I reel in disbelief, thinking: it’s a pretty damn simple concept: you’re on a stage? Cool. Great. Then you need to be heard.

“Babe,” my friend Suzanne snaps in before I can, clearly displeased at the level of disrespect shown and wanting the rehearsal to just be over. “Do us all a favour and just take the note.”

5.

And perhaps some six months prior to the above incident, I am sitting in a rehearsal room with the above ex-boyfriend (who at this point was just the boyfriend) and a host of other actors for an independent show I’m directing. This is perhaps the third or fourth time we’re going over a scene, and I sit, scrawling down notes as they come up with every right (or wrong) intention each actor delivers.

Wrong, I think as my pen hovers anxiously above the paper. Wrong! That’s the third time I’ve had to say not to do it in that way.

I move the pen down and begin to write the note, but something stops me halfway through, and quietly, grumpily, I think: If they’re not going to get it right now, maybe they just don’t want to. How many times do I have to say something? What’s the point?

6.

And though I’ve been immensely thankful for the process of Home Invasion keeping me busy, it is also the process that has brought me to the realisation that I have zero desire to continue directing. Not through any grand and dramatic actor/director confrontation or bump-in incident, but quietly, calmly:

I sit in our rehearsal room (a friend’s shed kindly lent out to us) some ten minutes before rehearsal is due to begin. Probably it’s the brain injury anxiety – certainly it’s the manner that I’ve found so much harder to switch between thinking like a writer and thinking like a director – but I realise that I’m having to mentally prepare myself for each rehearsal; to focus on each scene ahead of time and think about how I’m going to address it.

It’s no longer a joy, but work – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m recognising, as the process continues, how I’m having to drag each slice of investment out of my brain and think of how I wrote it; what I was trying to reach and show about humanity, what parts of myself the play surreptitiously exposes to the audience whether they know it or not.

So, where does that leave me now? More prepared to continue to hone my practice, and aware of what I want and need to do. And completely unprepared to make any grand statements like “I’ll never direct again” (and really, gives a shit either way?) because there’s a good chance I will, at some point.

But for the moment, I’m burnt out with not much left to give, in that respect, and slowly but surely I’m learning the greater good and quiet joy of being able to say “no”.