How do you write about an issue as huge as meth? Personal experience helps.
Zac James is Yirra Yaakin’s Associate Artist and Co-writer/Librettist of the theatre company’s new production Ice Land: A Hip h’opera. The production explores the impact of ‘ice’ on users, their families and their communities.
As part of the writing team, he worked with Director Kyle J Morrison, along with artists Downsyde, Layla, Moana Mayatrix and Trooth, to devise the story of three people in the Emergency Room of Royal Perth Hospital, told through the language of hip hop.
He sat down with Scoop to answer a few questions.
Coming from a diverse writing and acting background, what made you want to do this project?
I’ve been working with Yirra Yaakin for about ten years as a writer and actor and Kyle had been talking to Scott Griffiths (Opto from Downsyde) and me about the idea of a meth hip h’opera about six years ago.
I liked the idea but actually I fell into a meth addiction myself for a couple of years… I’ve been clean for five or six years. So that was a thing I had to go through. I think a lot of my passion came from wanting to talk to other people who were addicts and families who were experiencing addiction and telling that story, and giving hope.
Was that really hard for you?
Not any more. I’ve worked with Constable Care for the past few years – they’re a child safety foundation. My main role was to deliver education on drugs, alcohol, domestic violence and suicide prevention and that sort of thing. So I learned how to deal with that trauma.
I think that’s helped me to help people during the process of producing Ice Land – to safely have these conversations because it’s a potentially dangerous topic, but we’ve managed to keep each other safe.
And what would you say is the main message of Ice Land?
That there is hope – no matter what. I think that hope has different forms… there are different ways you can approach this.
There’s the hope that you can leave someone and they will help themselves. The hope that you can get through something yourself if you find that power. The hope that you can rely on other people if you need help.
I think a lot of these stories are from our truths, to show that although these are really horrible situations that happen in real life, in Perth, there is hope to escape and continue life afterwards.
So what can audiences expect when they show up on the night?
I hate to use the word ‘dark’ because there’s light in there as well. As a writer I try to litter comedy – natural happiness and light – within the show.
Expect to be potentially challenged in your ideals of addiction and what creates a drug addict. There’s a scene in there that shows what it means to be addicted and how you first attain that high because you can’t have a show about meth that says, “drugs are bad”, over and over, because it gets dismissed.
Addicts and health professionals will be like, “you’ve just demonised this thing”. Yes, it’s a completely evil drug but what we want to do is offer the perspective of someone getting hooked because then you can empathise and say, “ok I can see how you got to be in this position, now how can we help with that?”
The way the 3 characters have been crafted take you on that journey, the hour leading up to midnight which is like the ‘hour zero’ in the Emergency Department of Royal Perth Hospital – so just prepare yourself.
Why do you think Perth is a hotspot for meth?
I’ve got a lot of ideas. Isolation. Ice-olation. One in ten people use meth in Perth. We’re the meth capital. I think it has to do with our ability to be able to check imports, but I think isolation and identity. So if you’re in a place that’s isolated, you’re more likely to try to escape and it all comes down to belonging and identity as well.
When I was using it, a lot of it was me trying to escape. Being a fair skinned aboriginal person, a lot of people say ‘you can’t be aboriginal’, you know? I am, obviously I’ve grown up that way. But you use it as an escape to leave where you are. The flipside is that you’re like walking death.
Date: 15 – 26 October 2019
Venue: Subiaco Arts Centre