After a critically acclaimed first season at Woolloomooloo's Old Fitz Theatre last year, Australian playwright Charles O’Grady has breathed new life into his play Are We Awake? in time for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival.
A tender exploration of the complex relationship between queerness and disability, the play tells the story of a young couple sitting on the cusp of change. Faced with the spectre of financial instability, Endymion (Mathew Lee) must relocate for work, leaving his chronically ill boyfriend, Hypnos (Daniel Monks), to fend for himself.
Working on the production for the Kings Cross Theatre, O’Grady says, has been particularly exciting thanks to a team of queer creatives including director Sarah Hadley and actor Daniel Monks, who has returned to his role as Hypnos.
“It’s been a completely different experience for a couple of reasons,” O’Grady tells SBS Sexuality.
He continues: “When we were doing the show at the Old Fitz, it was part of a development program. The play was initially written as a response to The Judas Kiss by David Hare, so we were working on their set with really limited resources. Now we’re doing it as its own thing with its own set, lights and space — it’s really changed what we’ve been able to do and how much the director, Sarah, has been able to shape the show.”
Charles recalls meeting director Sarah Hadley through a mutual friend (“it was a real ‘meet cute’”) and says the pair’s close working relationship has helped to lift his original text.
“I feel like a kid at a magic show,” O’Grady says of watching Hadley re-imagine Are We Awake?.
“I’m just dazzled by the number of things I’d never envisioned. It’s been a really beautiful experience working with Sarah, there’s so much trust in our relationship. She’s done so much with the text, she’s shown me so much about my own writing that I wouldn’t have realised otherwise.”
O'Grady cites his experience living with someone who has a series of chronic illnesses, including narcolepsy and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), as well as his own journey with chronic pain, for being motivated to explore the intersection between queerness and disability in writing Are We Awake?.
"Then, once I started working so closely with Daniel, it became a thing about wanting to depict a representation of disability that was nuanced and messy and didn’t play into the media's idea of disabled people being needy or helpless," O'Grady explains.
He continues: "We really wanted to create a relationship that was between two people who rely on each other, but also have a difficult time navigating a world where it isn’t necessarily considered normal or okay to be queer, and it's definitely not considered normal or okay to be disabled."
Charles adds that working with a team of queer creatives, both on and off the stage, helped bring everyone together.
"It lifts the experience and makes it so much more safe and open when you're working with a queer team," he says.
You can book tickets to Are We Awake? here.