Saturday 30 December 2023

Oh Great, It's Jessie Ngaio! (Midsumma Festival)

From a young age, Jessie Ngaio has fantasised about killing herself. Originally performed in early 2023, Oh Yuck, It's Me is her dark yet exceptionally entertaining exploration of sexuality, trauma and climate anxiety and finding the will to survive when everything seems stacked against you.

Ngaio received much acclaim during her original season, leading to two 2023 Green Room Awards for Best Performer and Best Production. In 2024, Oh Yuck, It’s Me returns as part of the Midsumma Festival, where she one again hopes to engage her audience with the wider themes of the show while offering an outlet of mutual laughter, vulnerability and honesty.

"In Buddhism there is a concept of bodhichitta which I have heard described as the rawness of a broken heart; bodhichitta awakens us from our numbness and apathy and reconnects us to tenderness and interconnectedness," she tells me. "By sharing the story of my own intensely personal struggles with suicidal ideation, chronic pain and emotional abuse, I have deliberately constructed the show that keeps me open and vulnerable by using my own deep grief in order to connect to the hearts of the audience. I wanted to use my own personal stories as a metaphor and means of exploring the much bigger and more terrifying crises we find ourselves in as a species. I am greatly inspired by the BrenĂ© Brown quote “we cannot selectively numb emotion. If we numb the dark, we numb the light.” I’m interested in the question of what the role of art is during dark times and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how in the West, we have separated art, science and spirituality into different categories and maybe that’s a mistake," Ngaio says.

Ngaio successfully combines these three ideas in Oh Yuck, It's Me, so that while it deals with mental health and suicide she provides plenty to laugh at through her unique perspective on seeing the world. It is a delicate balance that came with its own anxieties but it has ultimately resonated with people. "I’ve had people who saw the show telling me that it changed their life. No one has said that about any other art I’ve made so I’m remounting it to see if that magic spell is still an effective one. It may be uncomfortable for some as it is, in true autistic fashion, incredibly earnest. But it’s also stupid, funny and joyous. I hope that when I share the story of my own healing and awakening to self-compassion, that I might help others awaken to love for themselves, each other and all life on this beautiful, little speck of space," she explains.

"When I made this, I was worried that it might be too grim and depressing. We live in such hard times, I didn’t want to make media that would leave people feeling miserable and heavy and this is where my clown, Lulu, came in. She is the host of the show and she’s really bad at it because Lulu comes from the red nose clown lineage which is all about sublime stupidity, you give the clown tasks that are impossible for them. As one of my clown teachers, Pedro Fabiao, said “we love to see the clown in the shit”. The shit I put Lulu in, is hosting a show for me where I am falling into spirals of self-loathing and shame and having flashbacks to times of immense trauma. Lulu is desperately trying to hold the show together and the comedy comes from her being utterly unqualified for the job," Ngaio tells me.

Along the way she has had advice from a number of renowned and ground-breaking performance artists in their own right that have guided Ngaio in various ways in how she would ultimately present this work. "One of my clown teachers and mentors, Giovanni Fusetti, describes theatre as co-regulation and I believe that is true; when we watch the body of a performer, our mirror neurons are firing and we come into empathetic connection with one another. In times of disembodied disconnection, it’s incredibly powerful to be in the same space with other bodies and to use my body as a vessel to take the audience on a journey with me is a profound honour that I take seriously," Ngaio says. "One of my other mentors for this show was Emma Maye Gibson otherwise known as Betty Grumble, and she ran a workshop entitled “Theatre as Medicine” which influenced how I wanted to make this show. My goal was to connect to the older aspects of theatre, those that are related to practices of ritual and transformation which was also influenced by the mentoring I have received from Butoh legend, Yumi Umiumare."

In addition to her performing arts experience and the mentoring she has received, Ngaio's own visual arts practice, as a sculptor and painter, has also guided how Oh Yuck, It's Me was constructed. "I have a strong visual imagination. When people are talking to me I see pictures moving and morphing inside my skull, which is both a blessing and a curse. Visual arts was the first way that I learned to bring the pictures inside my head into this world and I moved into the performing arts with one core desire: to bring my visual art to life and make it move. I daydream constantly about the visions I could realise if ever I had a proper budget!"


1) My favourite meal is ...
gorging on a whole ripe mango because I grew up in Aotearoa, New Zealand where mangoes aren’t really a thing and gorging on one makes me feel like I’m a queen feasting in a tropical garden of goddamn Eden!
2) A TV show I would like to be cast in is ... The Righteous Gemstones because that show has some of the most sublime character comedy I’ve ever seen.

3) A little known skill I have is ... I used to work for a porn company where I got trained to video edit.
4) My proudest professional moment is ... actually doing this show!
5) Happiness is ... running across white sand dunes in the outback then looking up into the sky and seeing a hawk flying in front of the sun so that its wings become transparent. Australia is an incredible country. 

Show Details

Venue: The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, Melbourne

Season: 29 Jan - 3 Feb | 7:00pm
Duration: 60 minutes

Tickets: $37 Full | $33 Concession
Bookings: Midsumma Festival

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