Bryony Kimmings, performance artist, Fake It ’Til You Make It

What matters to me is there are 200 living souls in a room and theatre is the only art form where you get to talk to them ...

Performance artist, director, playwright, musician, comedian, feminist … these are just a handful of the titles that could be used to describe Bryony Kimmings. As an artist, Bryony creates often-shocking works that centre around social experiments, bringing to light the topics she is most passionate about or that she seeks to explore further to provoke social change. Her latest work Fake It ’Til You Make It is a collaboration with her partner Tim Grayburn, and tells the story of Tim’s real-life struggle with severe clinical depression. The Weekend Edition caught up with Bryony before she makes her way to the Brisbane Powerhouse from June 24–27 to discuss the process of creating the show and her time as a alternative feminist tween pop star.

Let’s start from the very beginning – what was your childhood like?
What is this a therapy session?! Fine thanks. Nothing to see here …

No seriously it was delightful. I grew up with my ma, my two sisters and an absent father. We were really poor but dead happy, lived in a council house and were always the poorest at school but my mum was excellent and made everything fun and brilliant and taught me how to be a super feminist woman so I cannot fault it one bit. It taught me how to work hard and how to talk my way out of anything.

Can you remember the first time you performed for an audience?
This is going to sound like the most English thing you Aussies have ever heard but I think it was in a music hall, a wartime revue that we did when I was about eight years old at my school. I was wearing a bowler hat and singing ‘My Old Man’ in a cockney accent. I think I would describe my performance as insipid. I think I was very shy.

Did you always dream of being a performer, even as a child?
No it wasn’t like that at all really. I loved drama at school but was never committed or bothered enough to do much about it and I don’t think wanted to be an actress. I didn’t really do well at school, I didn’t get the grades to go to uni and I went to work in a shop. For a while, before I realised that university was my only escape from my town, I did nothing but lie about and smoke weed. And for the whole first year of my drama degree I contemplated changing to a different course, but then something clicked and I became an artist. I studied fine art and the history of performance art … an exotic and excellent combo and so niche that I was destined to either become a performance artist or an academic. I think my mum might still be angry I didn’t do something more lucrative!

Your work centres on social experiments, which have seen you retracing an STI to its source and spending seven days in a constant state of intoxication. What drew you to this style of art?
For a long time in my life I didn’t make art. I didn’t feel like I had anything to say, I spent my 20s partying and making little bits and bobs for clubs and parties and just worked in the arts, producing experimental dance artists. I knew I didn’t have anything to say yet. All my favourite artists had a cause, something to fight against, something to change. They all made work from a genuine place of need and I didn’t discover that until I was past 30. I waited to have something to talk about, I waited until my life became interesting enough to bore people with my politics and what I thought. I don’t write plays that happen in a fake kitchen where people talk about fake things, it doesn’t appeal to me. What matters to me is there are 200 living souls in a room and theatre is the only art form where you get to talk to them. What you say and how you ask them to feel is all that matters to me.

What has been the most interesting, or perhaps unusual, experiment you have undertaken?
I spent a two-year period being a alternative feminist tween pop star invented by my nine-year-old niece as an antidote to the sexualised and homogenised pop she was being pedalled by the music industry and big brands. We reached 22 million people, toured the world and were played on BBC Radio 1. It was epic.

You and your partner Tim will be performing at the Brisbane Powerhouse from June 24–27 with the Brisbane debut of Fake It ’Til You Make It. What can you tell us about the show?
In recent years I have been making work with non-artists. Family members mostly. This show is made with my fiance and the father to my impending baby (I will be five-months pregnant when we hit Brisbane). It’s the true story of Tim’s clinical depression and how he hid it from everyone he knew for almost a decade. It is funny and moving as a show, as it’s very raw but also very playful and like coming to our house for the evening. Expect singing and dancing and crying and story telling, and a couple being very honest about something that affects so many of us that is rarely talked about.

You found out that Tim has severe clinical depression six months into your relationship. What can you tell us about that time for you as a couple?
It was of course difficult. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t shocked, but it was less about the deceit and more about the reason behind it that I became more fascinated with. I totally understood why he didn’t want anyone to know … I know enough about gender politics to understand that if we condition our boys into thinking that emotions make you weak and then we give a boy a disease that literally makes you cry yourself to sleep then he is going to feel ashamed about it. All the discovery ended up doing was making me love him even more for all the excellent brave things that followed … including making this show with his girlfriend and giving up his job for a year!

What do you hope to achieve as a result of the show?
The aim is simple – to get men talking about depression more openly. We’re also working with Beyond Blue to help spread our story far and wide. Of course we also wish to entertain, but if by proxy we get more people understanding mental illness then we are doing our job.

As a performance artist, director, playwright (and more!) you would be used to theatre and the stage, but Tim is actually an account manager at an advertising firm. How did the idea for the show come about?
I had done a month-long stint in Melbourne in 2014 and whilst I was away Tim had a breakdown. It was the absolute worst thing that could happen when I was the other side of the planet. I came home and said I never wanted to be that far apart ever again, it just didn’t suit our lifestyle. I said I would give it all up or he would have to make a show with me and the twinkle in his eye said it all – he hated his job, he had reached a stage where he had begun to talk publicly about his struggles with depression and this was the obvious, if a bit bonkers, next step. And so began the show.

Was Tim nervous about being on stage?
The first time we did the show there was a moment when I looked at him and he was literally as stiff as a board and he had gone into another dimension of nerves. I had to shake him and check he wasn’t having a seizure. It was so bad his fear … but now it is manageable and kind of the cool thing about the show, that he is a just a regular guy, trying his best to get through it, despite how hard he finds it!

We hear that Fake It ’Til You Make It features some homemade music and stupid dancing. That must have been a fun rehearsal process …
Fun but also full of huge arguments, we weren’t used to the dynamic at first. So there were joyous, hellish, sad and uplifting moments. A real roller-coaster, but we needed to get that out of the way to make something truly raw and excellent, which I think we now have. The dancing was hilarious though.

What’s your idea of complete happiness?
Being pregnant, my whole perspective on this has changed. I would have said a party, with all of our mates, drinking and dancing hard … now it’s lying naked on our bed chatting to our unborn baby about all the fun things we will do in its life. Time changes all of us, but babies seem to have affected us profoundly. Being on tour together whilst sharing this thing is so fucking cool.

What inspires you?
Seeing stuff that makes me go, damn, I wish I had thought of that. Only that makes me work harder. Its usually film or music too, I find it hard to see great theatre. I find a lot of things I see a waste of time. That is so mean but that is how I feel.

Finally, any words of wisdom to share with our audience?
Come and see our show, I promise its one of the best I have made. You can laugh at my fat ass trying to dance gracefully with a honeydew melon for a stomach! Sounds cool right?!


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