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Actress shares her struggle with mental illness


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Actress and singer Hannah Bennett hopes her Cabaret Fringe Festival show will help audiences to not just better understand mental illness, but to get a real sense of what it feels like.

Myriad is based on the Adelaide College of the Arts graduate’s own struggle with anxiety and depression for more than 10 years, and is described as equal parts funny and tragic.

“It is about me, but I know my stories are felt by other people and that’s why I want to get them out, because I know other people will relate to them,” the 26-year-old says.

“What we want the audience to take away is that their experience should be more felt than understood … to have a sense that they are feeling the things that I’m feeling.”

Fellow AC Arts graduate Suzannah Kennett Lister directs the cabaret show and also wrote most of it, based on Bennett’s stories, poems and notes. Bennett is the sole actor, and is accompanied by a pianist and sound designer.

She says the performance is like a conversation, rather than a lecture about mental illness.

“I really wanted our audience to feel like they were just hanging out with me.”

The songs featured in Myriad all have special meaning for the actress, either because the lyrics resonate or because they have helped her through her struggle with mental illness. They range from kd lang’s “Outside Myself” and Sinead O’Connor’s version of “Queen of Denmark” to pop singer Selena Gomez’s “Who Says”.

“A few years ago when I was going through a really bad patch, I would listen to it [‘Who Says’] on repeat every day and it made me feel like everything would be okay,” Bennett says.

Like the songs, the show is a mixture of light and dark. Bennett says self-deprecation and making fun of herself are among her coping mechanisms, so there is plenty of humour in Myriad.

“I don’t want people to be afraid, because I have been afraid and that sucks.”

These days, she is in a good place, which makes the laughter come easier. But anxiety and depression rarely go away completely. It’s more like a journey, says Bennett, whose performance also explores how mental illness shapes a person’s world.

“At this point in my life, it’s informed so much of my experience; it’s not something I’d want to take back … so I have a very complex and intimate relationship with it.

“It’s part of me and who I am – that’s a big part of the show.”

Myriad was produced with help from a crowdfunding campaign and is being presented in partnership with the South Australian office of national youth mental health organisation Headspace.

Bennett says she feels proud to be part of a larger community that is speaking out about mental illness.

“We are taught not to discuss our weaknesses and it was something I struggled with for a very long time … it [creating Myriad] has been cathartic in a sense, but at the moment I’m in a really good place and what I want to achieve with this is educating other people and helping other people.

“A really big motivation for doing this show is I don’t want people to be afraid, because I have been afraid and that sucks. I want to be really open with people and say “it’s okay”, because it is okay.”

Hannah Bennett will be performing at the Cabaret Fringe Festival’s opening night gala tonight (Friday) at the German Club. Myriad will be performed on various dates between June 5 and 20 at Channel 9, Kevin Crease studio, 202 Tynte Street, North Adelaide.

Related: Berlin Cabaret re-form for CabFringe gala
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