Night Writes sat down with writer and performer Mel Ree to discuss her upcoming show Mother May We as part of the Griffin Theatre Company Griffin Lookout program.
Tell us about Mother May We.
Mother May We is a slice of chaotic life featuring Woman, she lives in Sydney’s Inner West, she is a performance artist, she is kooky, bold, sexual, opinionated and she is in the midst of processing very complicated grief after losing her mother who she hadn’t seen in 20 years. This huge life event thrusts her into what is essentially the dark night of the soul. That ugly, sticky unravelling, that humble reminder that being human is learning and unlearning ways to survive, ways to love, ways to make sense of the injustice of it all.
What was the initial spark for this project?
I have the privilege of having intimate friendships with outrageously kind, deeply empathetic artists, mostly POC, a lot from Sydney’s Inner West queer community and Western Sydney who all share a similar early life experience to mine; we are diaspora, the first to do/achieve/be many things in our families’ histories, our mothers migrated from a third world country, they carried with them intergenerational trauma, that trauma affected every part of our childhood. I have come to be in awe of the type of person these circumstances create. We all have a certain madness and deep gentleness, painful childhoods carve a depth of humanity gifted to those who have walked hand in hand with pain through all the milestones of adolescence and adulthood. I already had the intention of exploring our stories when at the beginning of this year I lost my father, who I hadn’t seen in 20 years, and so I married these two worlds together.
How did your background in performance poetry inform your creation of Mother May We?
When I graduated from [Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts] some 10-odd years ago I did not know myself. I was paralysed by the lack of representation in the acting industry. Performance poetry became another training ground for me to learn to use my skills and allowed a soft landing place for me to try and fail until I reached into my own experience and found my voice. The poetry community received me, held me, gave me opportunities to share my story and pay my rent, I owe so much of my survival in Sydney to all the gracious souls who saw me as a person with a story, not a character type or something to be marketed. I have found my strength as a storyteller, given myself permission to be brave and bold in the fertile, accepting landscape that is Performance Poetry.
What were the most challenging and most enjoyable aspects of this project’s development?
Writing a story so close to my experience allows me to have deep ownership over the words. I feel powerful speaking my truth, which is ultimately a collective truth of all the people I know and love. This is important work for me. I am, however, lonely, haha, I crave someone else’s body to volleyball with on stage, for now I’ll just have to volleyball with my ancestors and my trauma.
Mother May We covers themes of identity, trauma, and healing. Can you talk about how the production explores these themes and translates or represents them for an audience?
These themes are ever present in my life, speak to me on any corner on any street anywhere in the world and the conversation will cascade through these topics and spin on the axis of where our truths collide, I can’t help it, in the words of Charles Bukowski, “I have no time for things that have no soul”. Everything I will ever write/perform/produce will explore identity, trauma, and healing because that is the truth of being an ethnic person in Australia, this is how we are finding ourselves, telling our stories and reminding ourselves who the f*ck we came from, finding the strength and courage to face our trauma and ultimately healing from them to create new histories for future generations.
Why is it important to tell this story in Australia now?
I believe we are experiencing a renaissance of black, brown, queer, marginalised art in Australia. My voice follows many other brave storytellers through our theatres, we are finally telling important stories reflecting the diverse mix of non white, non privileged experiences, we are unshaming our histories by telling them loud and proud. Collectively there is a global movement to healing, we see spirituality in the mainstream and thriving in pop culture, my voice is a temporary, bold Womxn of colour doing the important spiritual healing work, it’s on trend darling, all the cool kids are doing it.
How does Mother May We fit into the wider Australian theatre or performance scene?
I’m not sure and I don’t care. Is that rude to say? I’ve always been a unique character, my intention is to create work that stems from my unique expression, regardless of what anyone else is doing. Of course I’m influenced by every performance I’m privileged to experience in this thriving culture of creative work in Sydney but yeah, I’m just me doing me.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?
I hope they give themselves permission to be ugly. To acknowledge and start to release their family’s intergenerational trauma. It never ceases to amaze me how much pain we all carry in our bodies, we use them as storage units for the mistakes of the generations before us, we let these ancient wounds shape our relationships, we are at mercy to a silent killer, shame. I hope audiences will appreciate their own resilience, how it carves compassion and leads us to experience the profound simplicity in choosing love despite the chaos. We are not bad people for the ways we express our pain.
NOTE: Responses have been edited slightly for clarity.
Mother May We is running at the SBW Stables Theatre from September 27th – October 8th
For more information and tickets, visit here.
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