VAULT 2018 has now begun and as the weekend approaches we had a chance to talk to Nicole Henrikson about her show A Robot In Human Skin, and why it's so important to be making shows about mental health.
What drove you to make A Robot In Human Skin?
The driving force behind A Robot In Human Skin was my first theatre show from 2016, Makin' It Rain. That first step into theatre from five years of comedy, lit me up, and allowed me to see that being serious and honest on stage isn't something that was worth my fear and hesitation over so many years.
In Makin' It Rain, there's a short moment in which I talk about my experiences with anxiety, and I break the disease down into a relatable context. That small moment, of about three minutes, struck a big chord with audiences, with many punters telling me this section allowed them to see how their friends, family, or partner was feeling in a way they hadn't seen before.
And if a moment can have such a profound reaction, I thought I very much wanted to take an entire show to break down my experiences and perspective further, and maybe that could have an even more profound impact.
Why is Mental Health such an important subject to discuss?
Mental health is important to discuss because so many people living with all forms of mental illnesses, and invisible illnesses at large, need to know they're not alone. Our emotions and responses, our worries and fears, our sleeplessness and our inability to get out of bed, it's all valid and real. It's a chemical reaction in our brains, just like the love we feel for friends, the happiness we feel after a rough patch, or even simply the hunger we feel when it's time to eat.
But no one would tell someone else that their hunger is all in the head, that their hunger isn't real, that they need to get over their hunger. Though all mentally ill people are told over and over, either implicitly or explicitly, that their experiences aren't real, and that if we don't "get over it", no one will ever "put up with us". That we'll never have friends, that our families will abandon us, and that no one will be attracted to us. And all this stigma and ill-treatment only makes the process of acceptance and long-term management more painful, and even puts the process off to the point of people never seeking help, and ending up feeling that there's no other option but ending their life.
As a society, we need to talk about mental health. We need to make theatre about it, write books about it, listen to songs about it, and talk to our friends about it.
If there's any way that I can start that conversation, or help one person to feel less alone, or help someone understand their loved one better, and I can do that by getting up on stage and talking about being a lonely teenager, or covering insecurities with over-confidence, or feeling that being "ill" made me "weak", then I'm going to do just that.
What theatre ‘turn offs’ do you have?
I don't know if I've seen enough theatre to really have "turn offs". I'd say any of these "turn offs" are the usual one that I have with all media and art; a lack of diversity and/or positive representation, along with privileged voices trying to guess the experiences of marginalised folx. I'm not having a non sex-worker talking about sex worker lives, or non-trans* people speaking of behalf of trans* folx, and I'm especially not having white men talk on anyone else's behalf.
What was the last show that moved you to action?
Nothing live (theatre, comedy, storytelling etc.) comes to mind, in terms of something moving me to action. I'm not really influenced or inspired by work that's similar to what I'm currently working on. For example, my new show will discuss ethnicity, and I've been moved by a lot of music and comedy by POC folx, rather than any theatre by us. My ideas sort of stem from one show to the other, rather than from someone else's work. Though other's work does allow me a greater perspective on my subject matter.
What shows at VAULT are you looking forward to?
Honestly, I've been too stressed with my Producer Hat on, promoting my own show and making sure it's ready, that unfortunately I haven't even thought about what might be amazing and wonderful to experience during the Festival. Luckily, A Robot In Human Skin is the first week, so I can do it, then focus on what else is on offer later in VAULT Festival.
You can see A Robot In Human Skin from 26-27 Jan at 19.25!