Shot Bro: Confessions of a Depressed Bullet is a personal story written and performed by award winning actor and writer Rob Mokaraka about his very real fight with a bullet and depression. He tells Renee Liang how Shot Bro is a tool for healing and theatre for social change.
Why do you make theatre?
I make theatre to connect and communicate to people. So I use my Maori super powers to entertain, educate, enlighten and empower people from all cultures.
Why did you choose to make this story as theatre?
I created Shot Bro - Confessions Of A Depressed Bullet to help save lives. To use my Maori and theatrical super powers to help enlighten people about a taboo subject that families and communities find difficult to speak about. I had a massive mental melt down in 2009 due to undiagnosed depression... and was shot. So now I shed light on depression and suicide in a way that makes audiences and communities feel safe. I show them an insight that very few people are aware of and by doing that, it opens up a dialogue to unburden and normalise this kaupapa which is hard to talk about.
What did you hope to do with it?
I am taking this show/kaupapa on the road to places and communities who ask for us to be there. So we have toured to quite a few places, including a one off show in Rimutaka Prison, just out of Wellington. Shot Bro is a tool for healing and it is theatre for social change.
Shot Bro is such an intensely personal work - how do you achieve the distance necessary to fine tune it, as an actor and writer?
Time and healing self. With those two elements, I have been able to create what Shot Bro is today. From my early poems and short stories in hospital, which was me trying to understand what happened to me....to a first draft later on which was a slightly angry rant. Shot Bro has almost taken me seven years to create, with workshops and help from many people. But also my good friend and director, Erina Daniels was a key ingredient.
How did you keep yourself safe when exploring and writing? Do you have any tips for the rest of us?
It was an intense journey which I did in short bursts. Hence it took almost seven years to finally get the show up. Plus I was having therapy sessions which was slowly but surely arming me with coping mechanisms/thriving mechanisms. When exploring or researching BIG topics that are dark and heavy, I like to acknowledge that's what I'm entering into. Before each show of Shot Bro, my team and I have karakia to acknowledge the arena we are about to enter, but to also acknowledge the light and aroha which we require to make us spiritually safe..and prepping the environment for our audiences. After each show we have a forum where people speak openly and honestly. After that we all close that section with a group karakia which helps us whakanoa. Then we all eat together and have cups of tea to manaaki our audience and help whakanoa/remove tapu some more.
Tell me about your working process with Erina Daniels, the director.
Erina helped me unpack all the things I wanted to say and asked many questions which were sometimes challenging, but we trusted each other so that helped me a lot. We found ways as mentioned above on how to make us safe as we traverse the darklands of depression and suicide, to make it safe also for our audiences. I have the material on tap and Erina would help me make these ideas clearer and shape them.
You've performed this work in many venues - what has been your favourite?
My favourite venues have been Rimutaka Prison, because it strengthened my belief in myself and the show as a tool for healing. If it could work in there, it can work anywhere. My other favourite venue was Te Herenga Waka Marae at Victoria University in Wellington. The reason being, it was our first time performing in a wharenui. But to be honest, it's all about the communities and the aroha they have for us and the kaupapa.
What has been the best response to your piece so far?
There are so many amazingly heartfelt, insightful and brave responses, because people feel safe to talk. But it's when people tell me after the show or days later that I helped save their life and others tell me that they now have tools to help friends or whanau in distress. That also strengthens my heart and soul knowing that my team and I have created a tool for healing that reaches all cultures, ages and gender. Extremely humbling and empowering for all of us.
What are you working on next?
I am co-writer and co-actor with my good mate Jamie McCaskill on a Maori Comedy Web Series called, The Maori Side Steps. Due for release end of November. It's a joy and privilege to work alongside my very talented and funny mates on the series. Possible second series already on the cards.
I'm also a co-writer on a theatre project called; Cellfish. Jason Te Kare and Miriama McDowell are my other co-writers and that piece is due to be launched at next years Auckland Arts Festival. Plus I'm shortlisted for my short film called Tremble, based on the day I was shot. That film is also a tool for healing and enlightenment around depression and suicide. p.s. Suicide is not a swear word and crying is better than dying :)
- Shot Bro - Confessions of a Depressed Bullet is at Basement Theatre 25 Oct - 5 Nov. Each performance is followed by a forum facilitated by Rob Mokaraka and director Erina Daniels.