Get Real: Talking mental health & disability

Creatively exploring the family experience of mental ill health with Chelsea Plumley

July 01, 2023 The team at ermha365 Season 4 Episode 83
Get Real: Talking mental health & disability
Creatively exploring the family experience of mental ill health with Chelsea Plumley
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Our guest for this episode is award-winning Theatre & Cabaret Artist, playwright, producer, musician and all-round creative dynamo Chelsea Plumley.  Chelsea has written and produced her first play, Beautiful Highness, which premiered in May 2023 at Chapel Off Chapel in Melbourne.
Beautiful Highness centres around one family’s incredible grit and determination dealing with mental ill-health and is based on Chelsea's living experience.

ermha365 provides mental health and disability support for people in Victoria and the Northern Territory. Find out more about our services at our website, including our carer support.

Find out more about Chelsea at her website https://www.chelseaplumley.com/ and her play Beautiful Highness https://www.beautifulhighness.com/

If you have been affected by anything discussed in this episode you can contact:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
13 YARN on 13 92 76 (24/7 crisis support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples)

Other support and organisations mentioned in this episode:
Mindframe - supports safe media reporting, portrayal and communication about suicide, mental ill-health, alcohol and other drugs.
The Voices Clinic - a specialist psychology treatment and research clinic, run by Swinburne for people who hear voices or have similar experiences.
Families where a Parent has a Mental Illness (FaPMI) - general information about the program and locations.
ANZACATA - the peak professional body representing creative arts therapists in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia/Pacific region.
CREDITS
Produced, hosted and edited by Emily Webb, ermha365 Advocacy and External Communications Advisor with Karenza Louis-Smith, CEO ermha365.
Follow ermha365 on social media:
FACEBOOK - @ermhaorg
TWITTER - @ermha365
INSTAGRAM - @ermha365

ermha365 acknowledges that our work in the community takes place on the Traditional Lands of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and therefore respectfully recognise their Elders, past and present, and the ongoing Custodianship of the Land and Water by all Members of these Communities.

We recognise people with lived experience who contribute to GET REAL podcast, and those who love, support and care for them. We recognise their strength, courage and unique perspective as a vital contribution so that we can learn, grow and achieve better outcomes together.


Team at Ermha 365:

Get Real is recorded on the unseeded lands of the Bunurong and Wurundjeri peoples of the Kulin Nation. We acknowledge and pay our respects to their elders, past and present. We also acknowledge that the first peoples of Australia are the first storytellers, the first artists and the first creators of culture, and we celebrate their enduring connections to country, knowledge and stories.

Team at Ermha 365:

Welcome to Get Real talking mental health and disability brought to you by the team at Irma 365.

Team at Ermha365:

Join our hosts, emily Webb and Karenza Louis-Smith, as we have frank and fearless conversations with special guests about all things mental health and complexity. We recognise people with lived experience of mental ill health and disability, as well as their families and carers. We recognise their strength, courage and unique perspective as a vital contribution to this podcast so we can learn, grow and achieve better outcomes together.

Team at Ermha 365:

Ermha 365 provides special support for people with complex mental ill health and disability.

Team at Ermha365:

Established by consumers in 1982, today Ermha 365 is proud to deliver services across Victoria and in the Northern Territory. Find out more at W-W-W DOT ERMHA DOT ORG. That's E-R-M-H-A dot org.

Chelsea Plumley:

And in the play I wanted to show that. You know it's a very different experience at the beginning of a diagnosis compared to 30 years. I have seen the power of being on the stage and changing how people think They tell me, especially with this play. I've never experienced such post-show engagement in 35 years.

Emily Webb:

Welcome to Get Real Talking. Mental Health and Disability. I'm Emily Webb and I'm joined by Irma 365's CEO and co-host, Karenza Louis-Smith. Hi Karenza, hi Emily. Now our guest for this episode is award-winning theatre and cabaret artist, playwright, producer, musician and all-round creative dynamo, Chelsea Plumley. Chelsea plays Miss Andrews in the Mary Poppins musical, currently touring Australia, and has performed in many other stage productions all over the world, including playing Rizzo in Grease one of my favourite characters ever And she's done television and film work during her distinguished career. Chelsea came to our attention via the play she wrote, Beautiful Highness, which Karenza saw recently during its premiere production run in Melbourne. Karenza actually messaged me to say we must get Chelsea on the podcast. Beautiful Highness centres around one family's incredible grit and determination dealing with mental ill health. And, before we start, if you're affected by anything discussed in this episode, you can reach out to Lifeline on 13, 11, 14 and we'll have details in the show notes of other support organisations that relate to what we're talking about in this episode. Welcome, chelsea.

Chelsea Plumley:

Thank you so much for having me on your podcast.

Karenza Louis-Smith:

We're thrilled to have you. We are indeed And we're really excited to talk about your Play Beautiful Highness. You know, i went along with a friend to see it and it was incredible, really amazing. But before we get to the play and the play that you've written and you know your story and your journey let's talk a bit about your career, because that is an amazing bio that Emily just shared with us. You've done a lot, mary Poppins, you're currently doing that, but lots of work on stage, film, tv producing and international work too. Would love to know a bit more about you.

Chelsea Plumley:

Well, basically I'm exhausted because since the age of five I have not stopped really, and curiously, i often look back at my childhood and I realised I was very stressed A lot of my growing up period because every break in between school term breaks was spent preparing some recitals eistedfodd. So I started as the piano player but then started to do singing very early on nd so it was quite natural that when I finished school I went straight to a drama school called Woppa in Perth, and when you finished Woppa in those days you immediately moved to the East Coast, either Sydney or Melbourne, because there wasn't as much work going in Perth. And, yes, i've been very fortunate. But what I found is that I've always had a lot of skills and sometimes it's been a little bit unwieldy knowing how to manage all my skill sets And I used to feel guilty a lot of the time for being good at a lot of things. I used to feel embarrassed because people didn't know how to deal with me being good at a lot of things. It took quite a few decades really to get to the point that I'm at now, which is I don't have to worry about other people's stuff, i only have to manage my stuff in life. So over the years I've spent time travelling. My one woman shows that I've written written songs, written dialogue.

Chelsea Plumley:

I am a musician as well. So in my London years, when I was living over there for four years, unexpectedly I was doing piano bar Six nights a week. Four years for royalty, for celebrities, politicians. I had amazing gigs. But it was completely unexpected because I'd gone over there to be a musical theatre star and that kind of didn't work out And I came back and ended up falling into a lot more musical theatre work. When I got back Into hosting, i host Love Actually in Concert with a 48 piece orchestra. For over 20 years Now I've hosted Singalonga Sound of Music. So yeah, i do a lot of different things. I also run choirs. I also was a Zumba instructor for three years and I love that. So I just kind of am curious. I'm a natural creative. Every bone in my body is creative and now I no longer feel the need to inhibit any of that. So I decided to write a play and I'm a playwright now as well, and that's okay to add it to the list.

Emily Webb:

That's amazing. I love it. I love it so much and I love what you said about just I'm concentrating on my stuff. I know that feeling and I know Carinza would relate to it too about just constantly worrying about what other people think And it's so exhausting. But your career is prolific And we know there's many ups and downs when you're a creative person and a professional performer And we've actually spoken to Queenie Van Zandt for this podcast previously, who you've worked with, and she spoke a lot about how tough it can be, but especially in the past three to four years with the COVID lockdowns, i mean it was brutal on the performing industry as well as many others. How's it been for you in these past years, since 2020, since the start of the global pandemic?

Chelsea Plumley:

Well, i literally lost in a heartbeat my A-B-C-D-E-F-G jobs because, as I say, i do a lot of things. So everywhere I turned I went oh, i can't work at the gyms teaching Zumba, and that never brought in a lot of money anyway. I was doing it mostly because it made me feel good and it brought so much joy to the 50 plus women I mean age wise 50 plus cohort that I was teaching. So that went. All the singing in person went, of course, because there was a lot of fear around well, singers in particular breathing a lot of air out of their lungs. We can't be having that And, of course, live performance finished. So I had to adjust.

Chelsea Plumley:

But I have had a lot of different challenges in life And I think being a performer actually prepares you very well for the concept of rejection. So, in a way, this was a level of well, i can't do this at the moment. I can't lead my life the way I'd like it to lead. I'm going to have to pivot. So we're very good at pivoting, i believe, and in that moment, with a lot of my personal development background as well, i just went okay, this is what's happening. I can't resist it. These are the rules and the regulations. At the moment I have two young boys. My priority, bye, is to look after their well-being. Right now, this is massive what's going on.

Chelsea Plumley:

And I was then forced to homeschool of course We're not forced, that's too strong a word but for two years, six months of each of those years, my priority was the well-being of the children And in a way, i just didn't resist the process. I decided I had to. One thing I had to do was turn off my ambition switch. So I've had that since I was five, this incredible drive. So it's very much a part of my being to always be doing something, and that was really useful for me to turn that switch off, be with my family but still keep some creativity bubbling. So I've got pianos.

Chelsea Plumley:

No one stopped me from being able to go to my room and play a song that reinvigorated me, to go back into the homeschooling environment and dealing with stressful kids who hated homeschooling, one of which never wanted to hand, write, never wrote. He only would dictate that for six months and I would have to write everything. So things I had to deal with very present, very urgent, and I was able to. I guess it was what's the word, in a way, being a creative is sometimes not selfish in a bad way, but it's a very self-focused experience. Sometimes I was able to set that aside and just focus on my kids, and I found that really quite a precious gift at the time.

Karenza Louis-Smith:

Sort of following on from that. I mean, this is a question we ask everyone we talk to, really about self-care. Like you've clearly got a. You know lots of things on your plate happening. You know Mary Poppins huge production. You know a massive amount of work. I still am stunned how people learn all the lines and remember them, because I know I could never in a million years do something like that. How do you take care of yourself? I guess you know mentally, but also physically. You know what are the things that you've got in place yourself care when your schedule is just full bore.

Chelsea Plumley:

Well, i think, yes, there are certain things I have in place, but I have to say it is my personality type. There are things that I've just already been born with, and then so there's that nature and nurture. I also have a mother and a grandmother who never stopped. You know, they tend to wake up in the morning and they get to the end of the day at 10 o'clock when they go to bed and go. gosh, i've not sat down all day, so I'm used to a high level of activity. So self care I can manage a lot. but when I do have self care moments, as I just mentioned, it can be simple things I tune out. the piano truly is my best friend. It's been my best friend since I was five. So just having that quiet time to play a piece on the piano or play and sing songs that I remember learning when I was 10, like a Carol King song, it's too late Just connecting with that musical side of myself, quietly, where it's just me and the piano, that rejuvenates me. Having a cup of tea rejuvenates me.

Chelsea Plumley:

I discovered during lockdown my incredible passion for ping pong, because ping pong is a clearing for laughter and happiness for me. I'll say to my husband hey, darling, you got a quick. can you just have a quick game with me And we'll just do one to 21. But I know at some point numerous points, usually during the game one of us will go for. And how lovely to have a go for or a belly laugh every day, because I find when you're kids you laugh a lot quite often. When you're older it's only certain friends perhaps that bring that out in you where you have a really good belly laugh where I can't help myself, i'm just giggling. I find ping pong does that, because someone will get some ridiculous shot that literally just shaves the side of the table and you go.

Karenza Louis-Smith:

oh my gosh, I can't believe you just got that.

Chelsea Plumley:

So that is self care to me, where I have a good giggle, specifically with Mary Poppins. That has a very huge vocal load. It's three octaves and I speak and I sing very heavily. So the number one for me is I don't speak a lot during the day because eight shows a week singing like that, it's your instrument. So if you are a runner, you train and then you run your race, but you have downtime, you don't just run your whole life. It's the same instrument whether I'm speaking or singing.

Chelsea Plumley:

So I can't consistently keep speaking to lots of friends, having phone calls, speaking to my kids. I've got to manage the load, otherwise I will never be able to do my job and sing to that degree. So that's where the main self care comes, and occasionally having massages or seeing an osteo physically, because the older I'm getting, i just noticed at Her Majesty's Theatre. It's a very old theatre and it's on all different levels and you're up and down stairs and they're hard cement stairs and my knees were killing me and I thought you need to manage your knee health right now. So I was doing some wall sits So I actually lean into more exercise actually to build up those muscles, because going up and down stairs uses different muscles. So yeah, self care can look a little bit different. But mainly music and creativity feeds my soul.

Emily Webb:

Yeah, i totally hear you about the knee health and all that. getting older, i've been feeling lots of creaks and stuff. lately. Chelsea, Karenza told me about Beautiful Highness. She messaged me after she'd seen it and how powerful it is And I looked at the production website and did my research and there's a really lovely Meet the Writer short video on there and you talk about how you started writing it in 2019 and you'd always wanted to write a piece that explores decades into a diagnosis for the person and the people in their lives. So can you tell us about the living experience that inspired and informed Beautiful Highness?

Chelsea Plumley:

Sure. So back in 2019, I was touring with an Australian musical called Muriel's Wedding and I had space for the first time in a long time, where I wasn't raising kids. I hadn't been able to tour because I wanted to be a present mother and that meant being in the same house as my children. So all of a sudden I had all this extra time during the day when I wasn't working and I was having a lot of phone calls with my sister. I have two sisters, one who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia a few decades ago And I was having normal conversations that I've had for decades, but I'd been starting to write down some notes and a girlfriend had seen some of the notes and went what's that? And it had things like it's the Egyptian dogs that suck the blood, it's not vampires, and a few other random little bits which were just normal conversations I'd have with my sister and her experience of voices, and my friend found it fascinating. I said that's my normal conversation. I was completely desensitized to that being anything unusual And it just started to get me interested in I think people would find it very interesting the lived experience of someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and how do the voices really occur And I'd always wanted to. I guess at the heart of it was have an oral history for my sister's children. The play title came about because in transcriptions with my sister she had mentioned how in those early days that the drugs she really enjoyed them. They gave her the most beautiful highness And I thought, oh ping, what a great title. But in the context of the play, by the time we get to the end we've all as an audience been really exposed to the soundscape. We've had a real insight into how intense and ongoing they've been for her.

Chelsea Plumley:

By the end she does this really fascinating scene in a stand-up comedy routine which is part of like an arts therapy where she engages with the voices. And this is very much more a part of how we deal with voices and those who are hearing voices is we can start to engage with them. We don't obey them but we listen to hear any resonances in our real life. So in this particular scene the lead character of Shelley is engaging with these voices and she talks them down. She talks them down in such a way that then she experiences silence, absolute silence, and it's one of the most heartbreaking moments because the actor and the character is so moved and she gets to this really beautiful moment and she says and it's complete silence. I'm left in complete silence and it is the most beautiful Highness And it killed me every time because the journey from that 11-year-old experiencing a very different beautiful Highness to now the 41-year-old experiencing silence as a beautiful Highness, just beautiful.

Chelsea Plumley:

So in our situation, my mother, it got to a dangerous situation where my sister was seeing meaning and in pictures in license plates, as she was driving around the six month old, four-year-old and nine-year-old and my mum took the children off my sister and then ended up raising them for over 10 years And of course that was an incredibly crucial break in their bond. And my sister still lives with the grief of that broken bond And the children themselves aren't truly understanding of the illness. They just see the behaviors but don't understand more in depth awareness of why the behaviors are exhibited. So I wanted an oral history that one day, when they're ready, they could read it, read the play or perhaps see it and get a new insight into their mother. They're not ready yet, so that just kills me, just this concept of the broken bond between them.

Chelsea Plumley:

And in the play I wanted to show that it's a very different experience at the beginning of a diagnosis compared to 30 years. And I'm talking with AOD concerns as well, so alcohol and other drug concerns. So if they've started around the age of 11, then there's been some heavy drug use and then there's a diagnosis around 28,. The children are taken away from her. We're going from that decade, from the teenage years into the years when you're 20s, into your 30s. Now we're into the 40s, all of us.

Chelsea Plumley:

It's exhausting that 30 years the levels of engagement have shifted. Those who are still gun hoe, wanting to make a difference, that one sibling there's five siblings that might just throw money, and that's kind of me sometimes the one that just throws money at it, sometimes inappropriately, because we think we're helping, but often, quite often, we're enabling. But I think, gosh, you know that's the least I can do. Go buy yourself a carton of cigarettes. I want to make my sister's life Happier if I can, and sometimes I feel if I can help financially, i do want to help. So this is a very long-winded way of saying I wanted to write a play that showed what it's like decades in. Also all the different perspectives from the person living with the diagnosis and the orbit, all those in the family, the carers, the practitioners because it's often very hard for practitioners to stay engaged Decades into a diagnosis and you actually have to shift and change practitioners quite often because they lose their Engagement. And so this play was designed to be an empathy recharge for everybody in the orbit.

Karenza Louis-Smith:

That's an interesting description, isn't it? because when I sat and watched the play and to me it was multi, multi layered, you know, you saw when the acting was sensational, absolutely sensational, but you saw the person, you know the person's experience of living with Schizophrenia and how, in the play, you had the voices in the room, was a really powerful, i think, sensory feeling as to what would be like if this was my everyday. And this is what I heard in all of these voices. And then you, you see it through the lens of the mum, the lens of the sister, the son, you know, as I said, was incredibly powerful at the end I mean, there were I didn't see many dry eyes in the house a Bit that I thought was really powerful is you know, the person at the plays about has vanished.

Karenza Louis-Smith:

You know she's gone missing and no one knows where she is or what's happened to her. And you see her Sister struggle. You know searching desperately, trying to find her, trying to find answers and how other people feel about that And the impact that has on her Marriage and all the things that are happening in the life. And I think what you've done really, really well with this place, sean, a light onto all those parts of it. You can see the trauma that you know the Person with schizophrenia is living with, but you can. You can see the experience and just pain in so many different ways in the family and carers and and people that are involved and And I think we often hear from carers you know I feel excluded, i feel left out, i don't know what to do, i'm frustrated, i'm angry.

Karenza Louis-Smith:

All of those different themes come up. I'm really curious, you know, with what you've written, and there was said there were a lot of carers in that room and you could see That watching the play, that the afternoon that I was there seeing it too, and you could hear in the interval there the things that it brought up. For then you know Someone's shining a light on us, someone's saying what we're thinking and feeling and going is fair and giving giving it credence and giving it a voice. This has been a big part of your life too. You know this is your sister going through this journey as a carer too. Yeah, i'm interested in your thoughts about carers and the role that carers play and the supports or lack of supports for carers too.

Chelsea Plumley:

Well, firstly, i think carers are pretty darn amazing in general, the The emotional side to caring and the physical side, because of course I've got a sister-in-law who is disabled, has cerebral palsy, 69, lives in an aged care facility because there's nowhere else for her to go. So there are so many levels to caring. Because the physical sites you know, getting to an age where you can no longer help that person physically or lift them It can be devastating. And then what choices are available. I think the emotional side is just I have experienced I can only speak from my side Incredibly heartbreaking and it's explored in the play, because there is the loss of potential I guess is the best way to describe it, where you imagined, i guess, when you first have your child, life might go a certain way and when it doesn't and there's a shift or then a diagnosis, having to relate to that person as they are now is incredibly important. Seeing that person more than just their diagnosis is another very big, important aspect to the play, that they are a whole person, not just their diagnosis. And I think one of the best things that carers can investigate Well, two things education, educating themselves about What are their options, what is the diagnosis or the disability they're dealing with. Because I think education gives us then more choices and knowing what support is out there because there is a hell of a lot of support and Reaching out and accessing that support can make it easier Can share the load with someone, the emotional load, especially In my mother's generation.

Chelsea Plumley:

It's not something you really did and you can see that in the perspective of the mother character. Who is not interested in sharing her story with a therapist. You just get on with it And you know you've got to give a credit. She stayed the course. She raised five kids Four kids in the play and then raised another three kids, been raising kids from the age of 19 through to 69. That's a hell of a lot of time to be in a mothering role and unable, in a way, to transition into a grandmother role. So I think education and support is super important and I also think we need to listen to carers and their lived experience. I believe carers can affect policy change and because they're both consumer and expert in this regard. So it's really important to listen to carers and their experiences so that we know where to fund appropriately.

Emily Webb:

From your experience as a sister, chelsea, seeing what your sister has been through and this could apply to any siblings if you could change anything about how we respond to and treat mental illness, especially complex mental illness, schizophrenia, bipolar. We've done a previous interview on this podcast with a young journalist called Alfie Scott who wrote a book about how we respond to complex mental health. It's very different to how we respond to, say, depression, anxiety, things like that. What would you want to see happen differently? Because there is an enormous amount of stigma, but also self-stigma, for the person who has the diagnosis.

Chelsea Plumley:

Once again, education keeps coming to mind and that's partly why I wrote the play. I wanted it to be educational, not only an empathy recharge, but I thought if I share what it's really like from the lived experience, it will impact how people see things. So a big part of me wants to go. This should really be on a VCE reading list, Because if we can make the difference to our young people, then they grow up with that information. And that also touches the point on young people For me. I think there was a missing in how we educated the children of my sister. So I would like and that's why there are great organisations like FaPMI, where there are families who have a parent with a mental illness They're doing such great work and people who do that kind of family reunification work, where it is possible to have a holistic experience of the entire family and the greater network but especially include the children in that process so that they can understand.

Chelsea Plumley:

It's very hard to engage with complex mental health diagnoses because there is still a lot of fear and that gets perpetuated in film and TV stage, And that was something I certainly didn't want to do. And there are great organisations like Mind Frame who offer people like me, creatives, an opportunity for free, which is just wonderful. They read your material and they say have you met their criteria? Have you kept perpetuating stigma and discrimination? They came back and I got all ticks because basically they just said that even where stigma was present, for example in the mother character, it's then combated by another character saying hey, you cannot say that, You cannot speak like that anymore. So I think, slowly but surely, we are learning a bit more. But I can't tell you how many people said I had no idea of certain appropriate language usages. It's not out there as much to say it's a person living with a diagnosis, or I mean you can say someone has a diagnosis of schizophrenia or is living with. But then I've also read a lot of documentation because I love research. But ultimately it comes down to personal choice because some people say well, I read, someone said I am autistic. I'm autistic, I'm not a person living with autism.

Chelsea Plumley:

I found this language because I love language usage. I thought for me personally, just being your average Joe, I don't know what to say sometimes and I don't know how to get it right. So how could I proceed? And I thought well, I can ask. I'm sorry. I really want to do the best by you right now. Could you tell me what would be the best way to refer to this? because I don't want to offend and I'd like to educate myself because I'm not going to get it all right, but I'd like to make a difference in my future conversations.

Chelsea Plumley:

Even my husband said something recently where he said I can't remember what it was exactly. It was like this schizophrenic. And I said look, I just want you to be mindful of language. And he even said one of the character lines in my play. He said oh, for goodness sakes, it's just between us. And I said you know what It matters? It still matters to me, just between us, because if we don't train ourselves here and now, we're going to make a mistake out there. I had some interesting I'm getting a bit upset now for some reason obviously triggered just that language matters. It really does matter. But I don't want people to be fearful, I just want them to try it because I think intention is very important. So I've messed up occasionally, but my intention wasn't to cause any offense, It was just ignorance. But, as I said, I can't always get it right because sometimes people don't like the modern language, So it gets a little bit confusing for us.

Emily Webb:

Yeah, that's really powerful and mind frame is amazing. When I was a journalist we had some training with different organisations because the language around suicide and reporting guidelines has changed gender. I've noted in stuff I've written from even 10 years ago where things have shifted. So it's a constant reassessment. and I've got teenage daughters. I'm sort of called the killjoy in the house because I'm like always saying, hey, this matters.

Chelsea Plumley:

So I'm really glad about what you said And I just say on that, emily, sorry to interrupt, but I really believe in redemption as a concept and that was a big part of the play is that we're not going to all get it right at every point. Everyone's perfect And if we do get it wrong, make a mistake, this huge big deal, it can be like hey, i didn't realise, i'm accountable for that, i'm responsible for my words. I'm really sorry that I said that. Forgive me, what do you suggest I say in the future? Got to be able to make mistakes in life and redeem them.

Emily Webb:

Mistakes I mean, i've made them. I've made them And I think redemption is really it's a really important human quality and also beautiful. Highness is supported by an organisation. This is all information you can find out on the wonderful website for the play. It's called ANZACATA I'm not going to even try and say that as an acronym The peak professional body representing creative arts therapists in Australia, new Zealand and Asia Pacific, and they use creative processes to help clients explore feelings that they might find hard to put into words, and some of the stuff we do at

Emily Webb:

We have programs and use creative arts as a way for people to explore their mental health, and a number of guests on this podcast who are creative have said that creative arts therapy and activities were actually crucial to their recovery and their wellbeing. So sorry, this is a long question. What's your views and experience about how important creative arts is for wellbeing and self care? because we know that the arts industry in Australia is always battling for funding and faces ignorance from a lot of areas of society and politics about its value and importance to the lives of people and communities the health of communities. Often it's, like you know, cut the arts. I mean, i did an arts degree. You get the jokes, you know all that stuff. People don't seem to, i think, understand how essential it is for life and wellbeing.

Chelsea Plumley:

I could speak for days, absolutely days. I have seen firsthand the benefit of creativity in people's lives. I've been, i'm an entertainer and an educator. That is my who, that is my why. I have seen the power of being on the stage and changing how people think, they tell me, especially with this play. I've never experienced such post-show engagement in 35 years People reaching out saying it's changed the way I thought I received texts, testimonials. The level of engagement was extraordinary because people were moved, transformed, changed. I got a text just two weeks after someone saying because of your play.

Chelsea Plumley:

I saw a man talking to himself on the street and he said I just wanted to cry because I thought of your play and I thought of your sister and I thought I feel so much love for that person And I thought, wow, that has changed the way someone responds to someone on the street they would have possibly ignored or been fearful of before. Also, little chicks about people have said to me I've just realized they're probably really busy in their head And so now I'm just going to get their focus and get them to look at me and say I'm the one talking to you. Hi, i was just wondering and see if I can get their attention. Because even one friend, who you would think perhaps would know better in the arts, said I was listening to that soundscape and all those voices and I thought I can't hear the actors And so I was just going. I'm going to find it very hard to concentrate. Ah, ah, it was like this huge aha moment. I said oh, that's hilarious. So the arts can give you an insight into other people's experiences. It increases your empathy for others and for yourself.

Chelsea Plumley:

I teach singing. I've taught Zumba. We know without a doubt there are tons of studies Singing movement opens up and expands neural pathways. It's just a no brainer that creativity is imperative to our well-being. Now, specifically for mental health diagnoses, it is one pathway to explore. It's not the only pathway. For some it is. I just think embracing the holistic aspect is certainly important For some, having a combination of medication plus a creative pathway, plus that support from family support groups. It's just knowing that those options are out there that it's not cut off.

Chelsea Plumley:

Back in the day, creativity to deal with mental health was not something that was even considered. So now to have an organization like Anzacata doing amazing work. They also go into schools and teach young people, which I just think is so important to get to kids in those formative years and start to shift mindset. Now I mean, we already can see that, because how many do we know? they're having conversations around oh, my friend has a diagnosis of autism. Oh, my friend has even a nut allergy. Oh, my friend has ADHD. There's so much more awareness. Oh, mum, can I have a gluten-free cake? because my friend's gluten-free, And that has been mindful of their friends. I think that is extraordinary. So creativity is an option on the table and thank goodness that it is.

Emily Webb:

And Karezna. So I wanna ask you on that, because Karenza has worked in the mental health space social services for decades and done a lot of work with people in the criminal justice system. And leaving. Karenza, what's your thoughts about it too? Because at Irma we do support a lot of people with complex mental health. That's our specialty And what you've experienced in your thoughts about the creative arts as a pathway to good mental health.

Karenza Louis-Smith:

I think creative arts, particular art therapy, gives people an opportunity to express what words can't say, and that's been my takeaway, i think, from, i guess, the work that I've seen and done And it's an opportunity in a way, to put those things down somehow on paper And I think it's a very cathartic experience and it can be a journey for something that just words can never, ever express. I think it's a huge part and for I think, for anybody it can really benefit their recovery journey and what that looks like and the journey that they're on And also thinking about this play to beautiful Highness. I think for me what was key, it was a real passion project for you, chelsea. I mean I've done things. I've ever been ever to any performance play anywhere where the writer has been in the foyer at the start greeting people, talking about the play, in there at the interval again chatting away to people have come, hearing their experiences and then doing the same at the end. It just blew me away. I could see your real passion for what you were doing and why it was so important.

Karenza Louis-Smith:

You said I would love to see this as a VCE topic. It'd be wonderful if kids could read this play and have this play at school? What are your hopes? You've performed it has been performed at Chapel off Chapel here in Melbourne. Yeah, what ambitions do you have for this? Where would you like to see it go? Because, as I said sitting in the audience, it was an incredibly powerful multi-layered view of a really complex issue.

Chelsea Plumley:

Well, thank you very much, And I mean it's a bit of sweet experiences play because it's based on lived experience and I wish I'd never written it. I wish never that it ever happened. So if it's going to our experience, i just hope it's a force for good. And I did see that in action. So it absolutely achieved my mission, my aims. I had a huge outreach side. As you would be aware, i had a number of grants to give away free tickets to those working in mental health. So I had SANE, Headspace, Choir of Hard Knocks, many from Alfred Health, the Voices Clinic, voices Vic, many from Uniting, from AOD organizations, from ermha, from carer organizations. So I can see already the impact it had on that kind of clientele, let's call it, which is not your typical theater, going audience on mass. So I can see that the educative side really worked.

Chelsea Plumley:

My hope is ideally I don't want to produce it because it's a hell of a lot of work and I'd like to hand it off. But at the minute I'm putting together a press kit so that then it can be sent off to theater companies. I will get it published So it's there in existence if anyone wants to be able to read it, but, of course, i'm a creative that has a family. All of the wonderful ideas that everyone has for the play outside of what I'd like for it. ultimately, i'm at the heart of that And it all takes so much work And I've learned over the years that I've had a lot of passion projects. That is who I am. I have ideas, i create them and then I fulfill them And sometimes it takes years. So this has been since 2019 and it's only been on in 2023. Sure, covid put a spanner in the works, but that's a lot of years invested in one project.

Chelsea Plumley:

I produced this for the five months before I put on the show. That was unpaid. You do this with very little money. I didn't make anything from the project. However, i had a decent budget and I paid everyone. I paid all my actors a wage for one month with Super. That was a huge achievement for me. I feel incredibly proud.

Chelsea Plumley:

So I'm just aware that, as I'd like this to move on, i have to manage my own wellbeing, because passion projects they run you dry And I remember at one point, a couple of weeks before going I feel like it's when I had my first two children where you've still got the baby you've got the two and a half year old and your breastfeeding because I breastfed long term I was parched, i had no moisture in me, they had sucked me dry, so to say. And that's what it feels like sometimes with passion projects. I love them, but I just have to manage Like I've only just delivered three grant reports post-beautiful Highness, to prove that I spent the money appropriately. So it's like never ending. And then I had to go straight back into a job earner being Mary Poppins eight shows a week because I have to pay for my Netflix. That's right.

Chelsea Plumley:

So I really hope that it goes on and makes a huge difference, because I do believe in the project. I saw its value. That's why I was there pre, during and post-show, because I wanted to see has it landed? and boy did it land. I was in tears for a month, basically, and I've never experienced people just saying to me so much. I've never been so moved, so moved by a live production.

Karenza Louis-Smith:

I agree. I think that I've only ever seen two live productions that have moved me. One was Jagged Little Pill and the other was this Beautiful Highness. I mean really moved me, and I've worked in the industry, as Emily said, she's showing my age, for decades. It was deeply moving And I hold the same hopes. I think that you do. I would love to see the play picked up by a major theatre company. I would love to see it get a run around Australia, because I think you really do tackle the issues of stigma and discrimination really powerfully and strongly and give a voice to so many layers in a family. It's incredibly powerful. So that's absolutely that would be my wish for it, chelsea, but I wish I'd seen it.

Emily Webb:

I'm just curious, Chelsea, about how do you navigate talking with your family, your sister, your mum, about writing this, Because you know I do true crime stuff in my other life and things have moved along very much about how you do it And I try to be very victim-survivor-focused in trying to reach out and doing things like that. So how did you navigate? integrating their living experience, their story, into your story with Beautiful Highness, And what did they think of it?

Chelsea Plumley:

Oh well, of course, opening night I was petrified that my mum was going to be hurt. Mostly, that was my biggest concern. I had prepared everyone, though, of course, my other sister had already read the play, so she was aware of it. She'd read numerous drafts. The sister who it is based upon, she was very aware of it back in 2019. It's all based on transcription, so phone calls, do you mind and consent to me recording All of that was in play, but, frankly, she's forgotten all of that.

Chelsea Plumley:

She doesn't have a great memory. So even on opening night, my sister had called the other sister and said what are you doing tonight? And my sister, Devon, said, oh, we're going to see Chelsea's show And you know it's on. It's opening night. And my other sister said, really, oh, what is it? And Devon said, well, it's about our family. And she went, is it? So it's been a tricky journey on that side, just because, even if I say it, she doesn't have the capacity to really retain the information.

Chelsea Plumley:

But I decided that it was too important for story to tell. I knew the difference, so I kept enrolling my family in the overall vision that it may be hard for us, it may be emotional, it may cut deep But curiously enough my mum had said only a few days before oh Chelsea, it's a play. I've been grieving for decades, it's not going to hurt me. You know the actual lived trauma of the various things that have happened And you know there's some of the worst things you could possibly imagine, including nearly passing away numerous times from various things, but nothing could touch her like the play. So opening night I said oh god, i didn't want to sit with mum because I was a little bit too. I just thought that would totally ruin my enjoyment. Not that I was ever going to enjoy it, because I was so stressed, but my arms were stuck into my sides, i was so tense the entire time And I said how'd you go, mum? And she said oh, it's fine, i just detached. That was her first experience. And then she saw it another two times And she said it got progressively harder. And then my sister Devon, who'd seen it twice the first time she kind of saw it at a distance And then the second time she said that really got me. And she really cried a lot post-show just letting the release come out And also because she said so many of her friends said I had no idea that you'd been through all of that to that level, and I said it's not something that we actively kept quiet per se, but you need to compartmentalize some aspects of your life.

Chelsea Plumley:

It's not that we were avoiding talking about it, but when you go over to do something else or go out with friends, you just wanna go out with friends. You don't always wanna relive some other parts of your life And I think that's not a bad thing. That's self care to a degree. So her friends got her in a new way, my friends got me in a new way. I had no idea, they said, and it's opened up a new level of vulnerability, which is wonderful with our connections now with other friends and family. Will I ever take it back to Perth, where I'm from? I'm not sure, because I do worry about hurting people And I worry about hurting my sister, who it is based upon, even though she's given consent. So it's a really tricky thing. But, as I said, they are all aware of the ultimate goal, which is to increase empathy and educate people, and they're aligned with that goal, so they will accept whatever flows on from that.

Karenza Louis-Smith:

I think you definitely nailed that goal, Chelsea. I think you did. As we kind of come to the end, we've talked a lot about self care today, but are there any last wise words that you might have to share with our podcast listeners about self care? Have you think about that journey? Are there one or two things that have just really helped you along on the way?

Chelsea Plumley:

I feel like this is a tricky one to answer because I feel embarrassed or maybe a little ashamed by the answer. But I only take the calls I can manage. I only take the calls and this isn't just with my sister but some other friends in life. Unless I'm feeling strong and I'm able to be my best person on that phone call, i don't take it. I just don't answer it. That's been something I've learned over the years, because I don't want to bring any more heartache to our relationship or to that person. So when I feel stronger and well, i can answer. So sometimes I might get a phone call which I know we'll be asking for money and I feel already resentful and angry. I don't want to bring that onto the call. So for me that's part of self care. Even though I wish I could show up quicker and better to some people I can't all the time, especially decades along.

Chelsea Plumley:

Self care for me also looks like education. It's just one of my favorite things. I listen to a lot of different podcasts because I get so many ah moments. Oh yeah, that's really useful. And then I bring it back to my husband and I bring it back to my kids. You know, interestingly, i was watching this or listening to this podcast about sugar and what they were saying was this, this, this, and I can say that over the dinner table. So I find that self care, i get the education, i learn something and I pass it on. That seems weird. It's calling that self care but I don't have all the answers. I need to go to cleverer people than me to help me in life.

Karenza Louis-Smith:

I think they're very good tips actually, because I think and it's interesting that you say you feel embarrassed for the first part that you answered I think that's some of the sort of the shame piece that comes with living, with being, you know, having mental illness in your family. Why can't I make it better? Why can't I just vanish it all away? Because you can't, you know, and I think it's a really powerful piece of advice because when you're there helping and supporting, you want to be fully there and you can't be partially there. But you also are trying to balance that with your own family and your family's needs And finding that balance is really tricky and difficult and very, very hard. So I think that's really powerful, powerful piece of advice And I think it it's that ends me, doesn't it? That you know that you feel is maybe that's not the right thing to have said, because I just, yeah, i just that's terribly sad, because you know you're, you're clearly so invested in supporting, you know and doing all of those things.

Chelsea Plumley:

So But that's part of the training, isn't it? When you educate yourself. I know why she's calling asking for money. I already understand that. But just my normal ego self goes oh God's sake, for goodness sakes, now I've already given 50 bucks wait. I've already done that. So if I just take the time to let that initial reaction go, call back when I'm calm because I understand all the perspectives so much greater now. I have a deeper understanding for why my mum has said certain things over the years. I understand so much more. I have so much more compassion for my family because I've been educating myself. I think that's imperative.

Emily Webb:

Chelsea, you've been such a wonderful guest And, honestly, this has just touched my heart this interview. Karenza, you were on the money. I tell you. Karenza was like we've got to get her on now. So thank you so much for joining us, And you can find out more about beautiful highness online at beautiful highnesscom, And Chelsea's website is chelsea plumley dot com. We'll have details in the show notes, as well as other resources that Chelsea has mentioned are useful, And thanks again, Chelsea, you've been wonderful.

Chelsea Plumley:

Thank you so much for having me both of you.

Emily Webb:

And thank you to everyone for listening And if you are enjoying this podcast and finding it useful and informative, tell your friends and rate or review on your podcast listening platform, because it helps other people to find us and find these brilliant conversations. If you've been affected by anything discussed in this podcast, you can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to lifeline dot org dot au

Team at Ermha 365:

You've been listening to Get Real talking mental health and disability, brought to you by the team at Irma365. Get Real is produced and presented by Emily Webb, with Karenza Louis- Smith and special guests. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.

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