“Life’s not a party, and that’s okay.” – a note from a 2015 dramaturgy meeting.
My childhood bedroom, August, 2014: repatriated back to Melbourne after nearly losing my life overseas, I sat down with the words of my doctors ringing in my ears: “you’ve got a brain injury. Don’t be surprised if you never write again.” Being stubborn, I took this as a challenge, and began to write Intoxication.
Intoxication is a play about the ways in which technology and anxiety have seeped so far into the everyday that it now seems strange to not be anxious – a play about a world where questions like “am I being weird if I text this person twice?” and “you liked my profile picture from 2012 – what does that mean?” are the norm, and overthinking reigns supreme. It wouldn’t exist had I not been hit by a car, but it isn’t about the fact I was hit by a car.
Every single member of this team is kind, intelligent and strong. They’ve worked so hard to bring it to life and pushed it to be the best play it could be, and I’m endlessly thankful and humbled.
We are part of the most connected generation to date; yet we’re all unequivocally alone. We can download an app and find somebody to have sex with in less than five minutes flat, but our hearts still race in fear every time our phone bursts to life with the prospect of face-to-face interaction. We’re endlessly constructing and reconstructing ourselves based on who we’re with, who we want to impress, what website we’re on and how much we want to be loved. Maybe it’s time we talked about that.
There was only about an hour of doubt in the first iteration of Intoxication. Not in the script itself – I mean, I suppose it’s riddled with doubt and anxiety and insecurity, even if this isn’t particularly what it’s trying to discuss – but in the writing of the first iteration.
Beginnings are hard, you see. They’re really the hardest part of writing and life; with endings coming a close second. I began to write it in early spring of 2014, without any real conception or idea of what I was going to write, only that my head was bursting with a lot of things that needed to be said, whether anyone was going to listen or not. I sat down at my laptop in my parents’ house. I’d only been back in Melbourne for two weeks at this point; two full-on weeks that had involved a lot of jetlag and a lot of time spent on my parents’ cross-trainer, attempting to shake the spare five kilograms I’d managed to pick up during my time in hospital. I had just recently – like, half an hour earlier – arrived back from my initial neurologist’s assessment as I began rehabilitation.
THINGS I HAD JUST BEEN TOLD:
“You’re looking at probably around two years of rehabilitation, give or take.”
“Avoid alcohol for at least a year.”
“Don’t be surprised if you never write again.”
THINGS I WAS OKAY ABOUT:
None of the above.
This was an awful lot to process; to the point where even reading those statements makes my pulse begin to run faster; more anxious than before. While I could deal with the alcohol thing fine as you please, after a month or so – and indeed, am now a perma-sober Sally – the others wouldn’t do.
This has been the safest I’ve felt in a production, ever, really, and that speaks tomes about the quality of the people involved – especially considering the subject matter; how the act of me performing in it required me to conjure up my least favourite version of myself: 2014 Chris, the one with the drinking problem and the self-esteem problem and the anxiety problem.
I’ve learnt so much from everyone involved; more than I think I can ever put into words – unless I write a play about it, maybe – but I couldn’t think of a more perfect cast or crew, and it honestly feels like a gift to have been able to work with them. Stupid and awkwardly genuine, but true.
So, back to me sitting at my childhood desk, staring blankly at the page in front of me, tears in my eyes, stuck with myself – somebody I didn’t really like, at all – and by myself.
What did I want?
– to be okay.
– to be happy.
– to be secure.
– to be able to run.
– to have a working brain.
– to drink, probably.
– to take back the entirety of 2014.
– to see my friends.
– to apologise.
– to write.
This has been the first time I’ve finally crossed over, too, from “caring immensely what you with the blog thinks about my work” to “actually not giving a single fuck whatsoever.”
To quote a friend: “You have to think, what can someone say in 500 words – less than 500 words – that you don’t already know about your play? If they manage to come up with something, you’re doing it wrong, but chances are, they don’t have anything new to say.”
To quote a contemporary: “Fuck that! I know whether or not I’ve done good work when I come out after the show. I don’t need someone to tell me otherwise.”
To quote myself: “Yeah, postdramatic theatre has actually existed since the 1960s, so that’s a bit embarrassing for you and your blog.”
The original draft of Intoxication was nearly sixty pages – the one performed, a much slimmer twenty-nine. I have the dramaturgical and directorial prowess of Jess to thank for that, but I think, in some way, there was a lot – an awful lot – running around my head; so much that I had no choice but to let it explode out onto the page. That first draft may not have made good theatre, but it made good therapy, especially when fuelled by my innate stubborn streak:
“Oh, you think I’ll never write again?
Fucking watch me.”
Blank page. Me, sitting at the desk. Verge of tears. It’s all very dramatic, but please realise, at this point, I’d also been told by NIDA that if I didn’t finish my course later the next year – in eight months’ time – I’d have to do the whole thing again, and it felt, at that point, like a sink or swim situation. Like I was, for once, really and truly feeling the fucking devastation of my actions – the devastation of stepping out onto that road without looking; of years spent buying that extra bottle of spirits and blasting my way through it; of being ‘that guy’; embarrassing myself and trying to kiss that boy or pining needlessly, stupidly after another; of regularly blacking out several times across several (hundred) nights; of convincing myself I was okay because I’d gotten into NIDA – the NATIONAL INSTITUTE! – based on an application I’d written while drunk; of convincing myself this was normal and okay and just what being an artist was.
Time passed. May have been five minutes, may have been an hour. But finally, I began to type; taking stock of how far I’d managed to fall in such a small amount of time.
What was I doing?
What was I going to do?
Who even was I?
“I’D SO LOVE TO WRITE:
without a subject, restrictions or fear.”
Fuck, wouldn’t we all?