Damon Smith and Josh Belperio take music therapy to another level through their respective one act shows Mental As Anything and Scarred For Life. These artists have chronicled their personal experience of mental illness through humorous anecdotes and original songs.

Josh Belperio | photo by Wilson and Lewis Photography

Belperio wrote Scarred for Life as a way of dealing with post traumatic stress and anxiety following a traumatic bicycle accident.

Similarly, Smith has a simple message, ‘our challenges can make us stronger’. He created Mental As Everything to help him deal with being diagnosed with Bipolar 2 and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

They chat with AussieTheatre’s Jennifer Trijo about their upcoming performances at Chapel Off Chapel in August.

Tell us, why have you decided to combine your shows?

Josh: So, aside from the fact that I think Damon’s a really cool guy and I love his music, we thought to combine our shows because of their shared themes of mental health and finding wellness.

Damon: A few years ago Josh and I worked together in front of a piano strewn with music and words. He was composing and I was writing lyrics. It was a great experience and I realised at that point that we should work in some capacity in the future… here we are!

How have audiences reacted to previous seasons of Scarred for Life and Mental As Everything?

Damon: Our audiences were ultimately submissive and were listening intently. After the show we were told that we were great educators and rightful torch carriers for the cause.

Josh: The reactions have been positive! So many people told me I made them laugh and cry, which I suppose is what you want! But what really sticks in my memory are the small amount of people that came up to me afterwards with tears in their eyes, telling me how meaningful this show was for them, because in hearing my story, they saw their own struggles with health – both physical and mental – and this show gave them solace, catharsis or peace. That’s why I’m continuing to do this show.

Is your objective to educate audiences through entertainment?

Josh: No, definitely not. Although there is a place for that, I personally have a disdain for art that is overly didactic. All I’m trying to do is tell my story, with authenticity and humour, and if an audience member learns something from it that might help them find wellness, or being less discriminatory, then great – but that was certainly never the objective.

Damon: Yes. Although as a performer, I don’t want to ruthlessly attempt to change an audiences opinion about a topic that they may not have thought about much. In other words, I try to make a point, with silly stage antics and transparency, about the things we can do and say regarding mental health that we may not have thought about.

Josh: My objective is to create a space for shared experiences because shared experiences are, to me, the superpower of art. The fact that we come to the theatre, as a community, and sit in the dark while a performer or performers invite us to emotionally connect with them, is magical. And shared experiences could never be more important than now – when our society is the most fragmented it’s ever been, when we have an epidemic of depression and anxiety because of, in my opinion, a toxic culture of individualism, competition and perfectionism. But that is another topic.

Damon: In the show, I say that mental disorders are not adjectives. When people say things like ‘I’m so OCD’, they are being grammatically incorrect and by using the acronym so whimsically, perhaps they have little idea what OCD actually is (and that it is in the top ten most debilitating illnesses according to the WHO). I don’t want my audience to feel like they’re put on the spot, like an insensitive fool who doesn’t understand such menial things pertaining to something I know a lot about. No, I’m after that ‘Aahhh yeah… ok, that makes some sense’ moment.

Josh Belperio | photo by Wilson and Lewis Photography

Does music help you to cope with mental illness?

Josh: I don’t identify as having a mental illness, but I do identify as having been in poor mental health in the past, and music has always helped me cope. When school was tough, I would just go into the music rooms and spend my lunchtimes with Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Bach or Beethoven.

Damon: For me, someone who deals with motor tics, vocal tics, ritualistic behaviors by the minute and extreme highs and lows, sitting at my piano and just letting my hands run away over the keys is a coping mechanism. That said, when experiencing the low part of the bipolar cycle, there is not much a person can do to stop feeling insignificant and dreadfully alone.

Josh: I wrote the final ballad of Scarred For Life, “Fine”, straight after a session with my psychologist. The session was on the question ‘how do we choose to go out into the world again once we’ve been through a traumatic event and learned that life is random, and we could die or be seriously injured at any moment?’ The song goes through essentially exactly what we talked about in that session, and writing it helped me to emotionally process the information, and emerge healed.

I’m doing this show in the hope that the same thing that happened to me through writing the music might happen to someone listening to the music – in that sharing this music might help someone who is asking or someone who has asked that question to emotionally process it, and emerge healed. Music and song has funny healing powers like that.

Give us a teaser of a song in your show, pick your favourite lyric or chorus

Damon: In the opening song, I explain that living with an OCD is like having a totalitarian leader inside of your head telling you what to do, when to do it and how to do it…Here’s some lyrics from the second verse:

“Your maniacal, methodical, analytical…unjustifiable
And I’m pliable, undesirable and undeniably unreliable, because of you.
Because of you, I’m nutty, in your hand I’m squashed like putty
I’m bent and I’m broken, I must obey, when you’ve spoken”

Josh: These are possibly the most beautiful lyrics I have ever written, from a love song I wrote to my boyfriend, based on our time in hospital:

“Matt, here comes more pee’
So you thrust my D inside the B
You hold it like a slippery axelottle
Watching me pee into a bottle”

Is mental health awareness improving?

Josh: Absolutely. I do not profess to be an expert in mental health, but I would say that I see anecdotal evidence to indicate that awareness is improving.

Damon: Yes, I feel like people are talking with more gusto about it, being honest and more empathetic to the sufferers of metal illness. There is also a huge amount of programming about this subject on TV, on stage and the like.

Do you think people can alleviate the stigma often associated with mental health?

Damon: Yes, I think that asking that very question helps to remove stigma or at least, can get someone thinking about why we should attempt to.

Josh: We alleviate the stigma associated with anything by talking about it. And that is why it is important to talk about it! And experience art that is about it.Jennifer:

You’re scheduled to perform at Chapel on Chapel on 4 August. What can Melbourne audiences expect from this double-bill production?

Josh: Well, there was a reviewer who saw both shows on the same night back at the Adelaide Fringe…

Damon: I’ll answer that with a quote from Tulpa Magazine taken from our Adelaide fringe debut this year:

“Seeing Scarred for Life in the same day as Mental as Everything only added to the experience as both shows complimented each other with their shared themes and ethos”. – Tulpa Magazine

Thank you for your time Josh and Damon and chookas for your upcoming shows!

Event Information

Under the Microscope | Photo supplied by Matthew Briggs

Mental as Everything and Scarred for Life will be produced and directed by Matthew Briggs of Under The Microscope.

This dynamic pairing will be performing at The Loft, Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Place, Prahran. The production will run for 2 hours with a 20 minute interval.

Two shows are scheduled at 2.00 pm and 7.30 pm on Saturday 4 August 2018. Tickets may be purchased online via the Chapel Off Chapel website or via phone at (03) 8290 7000. Ticket prices are $45 (adults) and $39 (concession).

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