Full Title: Home / The Hilarious Comedy About How I Nearly Killed Myself / A Play About How I Nearly Died But Didn’t Then Learned A Lot About Life Afterward
(There is no mention of suicide or self-harm in the extract chosen for OUTLIERS).
When a devastating break up triggers a full-blown mental health break-down, Freya starts to plan shaking off her mortal coil. A year later, she employs self-deprecating, warm-hearted comedy to expose the reality and seriousness of experiencing mental illness in contemporary New Zealand.
Freya introduces us to the horrible Lynn from WINZ who accuses her of working for Peter Jackson, Nancy the narcoleptic counsellor who confuses gender identity with sexuality, and Kit, the therapist who shows Freya that she doesn’t need to ask permission from the world to do what she wants to do in life.
The monologue we’ve chosen for OUTLIERS is a direct address as Freya reflects on the way the world sees gender in boxes and while she sees her own as something much more fluid.
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The inspiration for Home was purely autobiographical to begin with. In early 2012, I went through a period of suicidal depression where I came pretty close to dying. I was whisked home to Tauranga from Wellington by my mum when I told her how I was feeling. That saved my life. I went on anti-depressants and began counselling and therapy, and in this process I learned some pretty key lessons about life that were so revelatory to me that I wanted to share them. I was terrified by the thought that I could have died without ever learning those lessons. The best way for me to pass on those lessons was via theatre – what I had been studying and working on for the previous five years.
I’d written a truly awful play a couple of years before – a very clunky and self-conscious extended metaphor about depression – but something clicked when it occurred to me to write a one-person show about my own experience. I wasn’t trying to please anyone else anymore – just tell the story that I had needed to hear. I wanted to impart those lessons I’d learned, but I also wanted to show people how real and deadly depression is, while revealing some of the stigma in society that I have faced. An example of that is in the excerpt – people not understanding that gender is a socially constructed concept, and that we can express ourselves in lots of different ways. The wider lesson of that, to me, was to learn to not care about what other people think, especially people that may never understand. Their ignorance is not my burden.
It was the first play I wrote that was “successful”, and it’s because I finally worked out that by telling your own story (i.e. ‘writing what you know’ as my teachers used to say,) with as fearless an honesty as you can muster, you will likely create something that actually resonates with a lot of people. I still feel like even if people hadn’t liked it as much I would have still been really proud, because I made the theatre that I wanted to see, the theatre that only I can make. I found my voice.
Writing Home was the first time that I took drafting seriously. Before, I had fallen into the classic trap of editing as I went. It makes the process quite messy. This time, I wrote the first draft without ‘looking back’ until I’d gotten to the end. Then began the process of editing, which, I believe, is what writing really is. Five drafts minimum. I think of it that the first draft is crap, the second bad, the third average, then okay, good, great, excellent, amazing, incredible, Shakespeare. That’s 10 drafts. I do five which is probably why I’m only a good writer. I can’t believe it’s not Shakespeare.
Anyone can write some drivel, but a proficient writer is a bit like a carver – you whittle the work down until it’s something you’re proud of. That can be really hard sometimes, because you do have to ‘kill your darlings’ as the saying goes. In my case, the ‘darlings’ were funny scenes that were superfluous or interrupted the flow of ideas and themes in the play. To me, theatre is storytelling, so nothing should get in the way of my work being, at its core, a good story.
As I edited, (creating a new document for each new draft) I had to think about how I was making the audience feel. I personally like to aim to make them laugh and cry at the same time, because that’s what I enjoy as an audience member, though I do remember my director saying it was because I’m “evil” – maybe so! It is essentially manipulation of emotions. To do that, you have to think about which scenes sit next to each other, the rhythm of the scene, the act, the whole show. The other thing I always considered was keeping it ‘tight’ – theatre is often so DULL – I tried to get to the point, make it well, then move on as swiftly as possible.
The last part of my process was the outside eye (or ear). It’s absolutely essential. At first, this may just be reading it aloud to yourself. Then reading to others, and not always necessarily people who are ‘theatre’ people. If a regular person doesn’t get what you’re on about, if they don’t laugh at your jokes or feel sad in the bits that are meant to move them, then what hope will you have with an audience? Lastly, performance of the script for others before the show is key. This was the very last stage in the process of developing Home. It can be hard taking criticism on something you have slaved over, but that criticism is like gold so I try to treat it as such.
About the Playwright
Felix Morris Eng Desmarais was born in Tauranga in 1988, and grew up in Tauranga and Sydney, Australia. He is a female-to-male transgender man. His previous working name was Freya Desmarais.
An alum of the Australian Theatre for Young People alongside Rebel Wilson, Rose Byrne and Baz Luhrmann, he started his career in Craving at Sydney Theatre in 2006, before returning to New Zealand to study a Bachelor of Arts in Film, Theatre and Gender Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.
Felix has written four plays to date, one co-written with fellow playwright Uther Dean. Having dabbled in many artistic roles in theatre, visual art and music, he began writing one-person plays in 2014 with Home / The Hilarious Comedy About How I Nearly Killed Myself / A Play About How I Nearly Died But Didn’t Then Learned A Lot About Life Afterward (Home for short), then Live Orgy in 2015, which won the Social Impact Special Award at the 2015 Auckland Fringe Awards. Home was performed in a syndicated production in Germany in late 2015, the first time the character of Freya was performed by someone other than the playwright. In 2015 Desmarais was a semi-finalist in the NZ International Comedy Festival Raw Comedy Quest.
FME Desmarais is currently studying towards a Graduate Diploma in Journalism Studies at Massey University Wellington and working on his next one-person show, working title Congratulations, She’s A Boy.