Nicholas Lah’s new contemporary work examines meditation, performance and the symbolic. Breakaway Party of Heaven’s Temple hopes to balance the elements of light and dark in order to express the nature of everything. Gaze into the collective unconscious and watch as it melts away.
“The result is hopefully a murkier understanding of identity and the realization that identity is simultaneously the most and least important thing about you.” Nicky Lah, playwright.
Read on as playwright, Lah, reveals the culmination of his two-year journey into self and much more.
The original genesis of this piece stems from a discussion I had with a longtime friend and housemate surrounding the practice of meditation. What started out as a joke intended for a YouTube video clip ended up being something I was to flesh out into a theatre piece. The fact that my theatre show isn’t a comedy but started out as a joke suits me just fine. Humor and seriousness are inter-related, just try and listen to someone who takes themselves too seriously and try not to laugh (myself included). As I began to delve into all things meditation, I began to discover that like most things meditation has a duality of light and dark. Modern society can often give the impression that almost everything associated with meditation is purely good. Meditation in modern capitalistic society is sometimes a product in itself. Meditation can be used for the purpose of productivity (for productivities sake), for the purposes of enhancing performance on the battlefield for the object of murder, to break people down in order to make them susceptible to cults and if you’re not careful, it can turn you just pure insane. I wanted to highlight a different critical perspective, but also I did not wish to come across as “I think this is good/bad”, more so that it just is, how it is.
One of the main themes is the role of the Guru/leader within society. It is a call to essentially refuse to be led. There is no such thing as a Guru, yet we are all Gurus. We all have the power to transform ourselves, the people around us as well as reality itself. From the moment we are born we are simultaneously told stories about all these amazing people that have forged their own way, at the same time as being told to follow, obey and these are the things you should desire. We’ve essentially evolved to find shelter, comfort and safety, but unfortunately attaining these things are not what makes us happy. What makes humans happy is the struggle, the fight to overcome or what Joseph Campbell would call, the call to adventure. Like anything my writing is a call to adventure, as much for myself as anyone else. Death is also a big theme in this play “like many”. Although the interaction with the theme of death can be intense within this play, the aim is not necessarily to make you feel scared or frightened about it. The central aim is hopefully closer to the opposite, to make the viewer come to an acceptance of the cyclical nature of life and death. There is a very strong denial of death, stronger I would say in Western societies than many others. The denial comes from the misconception that if one is to suppress or forget about death, then you can go on with your life and enjoy what you have while you have it without having to worry. The issue with that, is that death is suppressed not forgotten, but rolling around in the subconscious, coming out in all sort of ways, pushing individuals unknowingly towards the death drive. The opposite of this is to acknowledge death and then accept it. It is only by accepting death, that one can fully accept life, a place where things start to get really interesting. The message for the wider community would be, don’t be lead, don’t fear death and most importantly, run for life from comfort.
I would say that the message would be to take stock of what you really want and not what you think you should want. That the societal pressures and worn out pathways are handed down to us by people whom through no fault of their own found themselves scared and given their path from their scared ancestors. There is a line at the start of the play that I think encapsulates this.
“Nobody cares as much about you as you do. But in that you are free.”
Sounds like a line naively written by someone without kids. But even so, there is a real freedom in the realization that everyone is worried about themselves. That you can truly float free within the cracks.
I go through bursts of writing and to be honest, I don’t exactly remember when I wrote this particular piece. I do know that after I put on my first play at Fringe in 2016, this was going to be my next play. I instantly began growing my hair and beard, though I did not anticipate that it would be for quite this long. Life got in the way and the play took a lot longer to get up and running than I thought it would, though a lot less than the decade it took for the first one. Three years might have been how long it was meant to take between shows, in essence it allowed my beard to get ridiculously long. I literally don’t know what my face would look like without a beard anymore. The show really started to move when I purchased the most beautiful carved wooden travel Sitar off Gumtree. I then began getting lessons about once a fortnight and then more recently about once a week. I began to stitch things together from a mixture of Indian Ragas, improvisation and personal pieces of composition I constructed whilst mucking around reading the dialogue of the guided meditation. I do character comedy and the more serious character from this show has now bled into a comedic version . I currently regularly do paid gigs of the comedic messed up guided meditation version at a Vaudeville club in the city on weekends. In fact I’ve been sitting in the character Cassius for so long that I’m not one hundred percent sure that I’m doing an act anymore.
To be honest, there is no real target audience. I’m not sure if that is good or bad news for the person in charge of marketing. I’m probably not all that great news for a marketer to be honest. I keep getting asked from friends, hey how many people do you hope come to your shows? Personally I don’t really care too much how many people rock up (obviously I want some), it’s been so long in the build up, that I think I care that the show leaves a lasting impression/memory on the audience than how many audience members there are. This isn’t to say that I’m silly enough not to realize that marketing has an incredibly important role and to recognize how incredibly awful most creative people are at marketing themselves. This is highlighted by the fact that the most impactful show I’ve ever seen and experienced in my life was a show of which only myself and my then girlfriend were in attendance. I definitely wish a lot more creative were a little better at marketing.
I’m actually in the show itself acting and playing the Sitar, though sometimes I wonder if I’m actually acting or I’m just sitting there giving a legit guided meditation. When it comes to the rehearsals itself, it is a very collaborative effort between everyone involved. When it comes to anything involving a change in the script director Travis Handcock will usually ask my opinion and when it comes to anything surrounding the actors, blocking scenes or use of props it is usually the opposite. Directing is not a skill that I have acquired, so I essentially get out of the way as Travis works with the actors/myself. When you get Travis as your director, you don’t only get Travis, you essentially get a creative power couple. Travis’s girlfriend Jasmine Tolentino is incredibly versatile and skilled. She techs the sound and lighting for the whole show, edits music, built props and designed the poster.
I honestly think playwrights often make horrible salesmen of their own craft, though I’ll do my best. I would say that that it is a half Sitar led guided meditation/ half experimental theatre show, where the actors find out what character they are playing in tandem with the audience. The show critiques using symbolism and metaphor, hopefully without an overt judgment on right and wrong.
From the beginning there has always been an interest in the absurd. To be honest, there seems to be something slightly off with the nature of reality. I find a lot of my writing ends up cyclical. Often the protagonist finds himself at the end of the play to be in the exact position to where he started. From a young age I had this nagging feeling that time wasn’t quite so linear and so a lot of my writing was cyclical. I later was to find out that there was a genuine theory/belief that followed this thought. I ended up stumbling across the B-theory of time, which posits that all time, past present and future is all happening at once.
In many ways the Guru has the biggest role in this show, yet I would personally not consider him the most important character. The two overarching messages of the show would be. Firstly, that there is no guru to follow, that the Guru is you, considering that any wise man worth listening to will tell you that he knows that he doesn’t know. Everyone can get to the point where they admit that they don’t know anything and that no one does. That is the only way to make sure you don’t get fooled into following someone else.
I lived for sometime inside a costume shop across the road from the Williamstown Little Theatre WLT. Working in the family business of antiques and picking at deceased estates, I have always had access to “things” i.e. props. I helped source props for a couple of shows and there was one in particular that need a lot of hard to find expensive antiques. I essentially let them go nuts in the antique shop owned at the time by myself and my father. That set went on to win an award. The director of that show was Shirley Sydenham, when I was finally in search of a director for my second show I contacted her and she read the play and gave me a list of about four or five directors in order of who she thought would fit this particular script. At the very top of the list was Travis Handcock. He ended up being the only one on that list that I needed to contact. I liked the fact that he was a straight talker and was straight up about what he liked and didn’t like, I knew that he would be an asset considering that this is not a strong point for myself. I definitely know what I like and don’t like, but I’m pretty shit at making it known that I don’t like something, or that it’s not quite right (I’m working on it.) Travis liked the fact that I was willing to give him final say as director on all the actors in the show, including myself. One of his first questions was, what if I was to cast the Guru as someone else. To be honest, I personally cared more about the show coming into fruition and the integrity of the show then I did about having to be in it. I’m keenly aware of subjective reality and how that can distort how you perceive your abilities.
The play isn’t really for you, it uses a lot of symbolism and hard to get concepts. I’m not really sure you would get it or enjoy it, I recon just stay home for this one, ay?
October 24 – November 2
Ticket details – facebook/Breakawaypartyofheavenstemple.com