The Tragic Seed
Michael: the writer
At two am one Tuesday morning, I was chatting to a close friend. The friend had just discovered that their cancer was terminal. During the conversation another friend messaged me. He said he was feeling suicidal. I messaged him back, suggesting that he contact lifeline. I don’t know if he ever did or not, but a few days later I received the news that this friend had taken his own life.
I was at my daughter’s primary school graduation when I saw the news on facebook. As the kids all sang their last song as primary school students, I saw him, his last message to me and then I saw the four characters of this play in my head.
Rohana Hayes : The producer
At the time we were having success with another play called “The Magnolia Tree”, because of this a theatre wanted to meet with us.
The woman who ran the space asked Michael if I had anything else and then to my surprise he started telling her about this suicide prevention play aimed at men that was forming in his head.
But she abruptly shut him down.
“There’s no point writing plays for men because only women buy tickets. Men don’t care.”
This turned out to be a blessing because Michael went home and wrote the first draft in two days. I watched him do it. The name of the friend we lost was Guy May. He was a tall, good looking, talented actor and artist and now he’s gone.
At that time our theatre company was just beginning to get noticed and so I wanted a comedy for our second play which was why, when Michael handed me the first draft, I was ready. As gently as I could I told him, suicide prevention is too hard. We won’t be able to fund or market it and no will come. Regardless he urged me to read it and so I did.
Four souls are Marooned in a waiting room in the afterlife.
They have no connection other than they have all tried but failed to take their own lives.
They don’t know how they survived but as time passes they begin to yearn to go home and fear that they won’t. A fear and a want that manifests into an insatiable hunger to live. But despite this hunger they are still Marooned.
Is there something that they must do or address before the gods will send them back?
If so, what? The only thing they have in this room is each other.
After I reached the last line I was so profoundly moved, I put it down, looked at Michael and said, “Ok, we must put this on”.
But there was another hurdle. Michael didn’t know Guy’s mother. He didn’t even have her contact details, but unless she gave the play her blessing he wouldn’t put it on.
The Lost Actor his Mother & the Playwright.
~Felicity May, Guy May’s mother
My son Guy May took his life two and a half years ago. He was 48 years old. He left behind family, friends, admirers, FB followers whom he had touched in a uniquely, inspiring personal way. The phrase, ‘once met never forgotten,’ personifies Guy.
And yet, he is gone. How little we truly understand suicide, Guy was complex, suicide is complex. Increasingly there is more openness in the media and from mental health professionals even politicians but is it cutting through? I think not. Statistics remain concerning.
The felt reality, is that suicide impacts on us all, as a society.
It hurts, grieves, perplexes. Is it not time to find a new direction? Not just to - have a conversation, begin a narrative or create a space – from my perspective, albeit with some notable exceptions, there is a hollowness, a lack of interpersonal emotional engagement. We are all involved in some way. Should we be talking more simply, even risk being controversial and perhaps not looking solely to dedicated mental health workers to take responsibility away from us.
Michael Griffith contacted me out of the blue, to ask if I would permit him to dedicate a play, then titled Suicide Row, to Guy whom he knew from various acting roles. Guy was an actor, photographer, painter also. With some hesitation I agreed to read the play, feeling my way through it with trepidation, the reality of Guys death by suicide being so raw.
I surprised myself by laughing at times, then working my way through to the conclusion. The various characters depict so persuasively the transient nature of suicide ideation and also its finality – there is no second chance. Michael’s play humanises this complexity in a way that compels me and the audience to want to do something about it. To talk to one another, for these perplexing issues to be openly addressed, now in this life, for those palpably at risk.
They may be successful, wealthy or without society’s acknowledged benefits, as in being homeless, living on the fringe or as the characters in this play, ordinary people we all know. That so lauded sense of hope, for some men and women can seem irretrievably lost. Friends and family who do care, become ‘not enough’ to fill the emptiness. Despair becomes acute and can overtake.
What Michael Griffith’s play compels us to appreciate
is the finality of suicide, and despite this being obvious, it impacts as surprising, startling even, there is no coming back.
The humorous teasing amongst the characters, the depiction of the different methods they used is part of the realism and brings home the need to talk, to believe to intervene. It does not, in my view put even those possibly contemplating suicide, at risk. The Internet provides a ready reference after all. It gives the characters reason to talk seriously to each other about their state of mind and motivation leading to such an undesirable finality.
Suicide more generally, is experienced as something to be ashamed of,
no one knows the details, what to say, it is the silent elephant in the room for all those left behind. My thoughts in progress, is that to save another’s life, at the expense of one’s own, is the ultimate pinnacle of our humanity and indeed this is so. But to save one’s own life when loneliness, despair, no sense of future, pain and more, prevail –also takes immense courage. To pull back from the intended act at that crucial moment, to live on, takes guts, needs applause, acknowledgement and recognition from all of us. My son feared being laughed at if he failed, men may be more prone to this skewed way of thinking.
Michael Griffith’s play has led me to engage in these thoughts.
The general public, the you and me will emerge with a better understanding and greater awareness of the value of straight talking. To not be put off by that friend or relative’s denial of their real emotional state, often done very cleverly. This play needs to be endorsed by Mindframe. It is the end of the play, not the methods depicted that impacts on the audience. It gives opportunity for the art and craft of writing to ask questions, to generate change, to talk openly to one another. It is time to end the sense of shame and to facilitate and acknowledge instead the immense courage needed to pull back from an intended suicide.
This play manages this issue with humour and exhaustive questioning of “why”, leaving characters to come up with spluttering explanations but convincing no one. My son Guy would have endorsed this play, as do I.
The Unfolding Journey
Rohana Hayes: Producer
Despite having little money and no funding we put the call out for actors.
We asked everyone who wanted to audition to read the script before saying yes, to make sure they believed in it and were driven to stage it. We were swamped and found our cast.
We rehearsed it in living rooms over several weeks. Often separately because of our work schedules. And we got it up.
To our surprise the AUDIENCES STARTED RAVING and we filled up through word of mouth alone.
Following one performance Andrew Thompson from The Wedge Theatre in Sale said he loved it so much, he booked it for one night in Sale there and then. To prepare for this a few months later we put it on again. This time we attracted a ¾ page spread in The Age and a 15-minute short documentary on Radio National’s Life Matters. And again we filled up.
The play holds and entertains, and it moves and resonates. We already have people wanting to come back to see it. Repast audiences for a play about suicide???? And each time audiences have unanimously said …this play must go everywhere!
And now the BIG NEWS .
Thanks to the MTC offering a rare house share deal, something they haven’t done in
decades. We are heading to their The Lawler Theatre Southbank from Sept 18th to 28th.
But even they have told us that they don’t expect much of a crowd because of the subject matter.
Our goal now is to fill the theatre and to show everyone that men DO care. They care deeply.
I also know that once a mental health organization sees the effect this play has on people, especially men, they too will embrace it.
So while the fact is that locally, there are not many good news stories about suicide, despite its origins, this play really is turning out to be one of them. And it works. And what do I mean by works? I mean it opens people up, especially men and gets them talking.
The Lawler Theatre
140 Southbank Blvd, Southbank VIC 3006
Sept 18 -28 th Sept
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