Mia Morrissey sits down with Theatre Thoughts to discuss her upcoming one person show In Loving Memory under the direction of Sam Hooper, musical direction of Andrew Warboys, design of Dan Barber and arrangements of Charlotte Macinnes.
The loss. The love. The unbearable rage and surprising hilarity; In Loving Memory is a celebration of the many shapes, colours and faces of grief.
Through a series of original musical eulogies, sung with a live band, Mia Morrissey invites us on a journey through, under, around, and beyond the stages of grief; revelling in the catharsis, humour and theatricality of funerals, musicals, life, and death.
Star and writer Mia Morrissey, and director Sam Hooper introduce grief in her abounding forms: A sister, forlorn as she is flourishing; A niece; explosive as she is exhausted; A mother, lost as she is lucid; A partner; messy as she is masochistic but above all grief is a friend. A lonely, beautiful, ugly, performative, ridiculous, unfathomable friend… And it’s about time we let her in and let her out.
“Funerals facilitate the enormity of human expression through art, by celebrating the things that really matter in grief,” said Mia. “The last few years we have all been through a lot of change, a lot of loss. We are in a world-wide time of grieving. So now feels a lot like the right time for a funeral… doesn’t it?”
So come dressed in your finest blacks and be prepared to laugh at all the wrong things, clap when you maybe shouldn’t, ugly cry off the mascara you shouldn’t have worn in the first place and relish a night of grief in all her messy beauty.
Mia Morrissey was born on the Northern Beaches of Sydney to agent and producer parents. Educated at the International Grammar School, her love of the arts and language was nurtured from a young age with lessons in Jazz, contemporary and classical singing, Piano, Guitar, Bass Guitar, and learning to fluently speak French, Spanish and Maltese through family. Being no stranger to the entertainment industry, Mia Morrissey started working as an actor at the age of sixteen when she starred in the critically acclaimed short film Bat Eyes (by Killing Ground director Damien Power) which featured at Venice Film Festival.
Mia made her theatre debut in The Voices Project:Out Of Place with ATYP. Also and accomplished singer and songwriter, Mia co-wrote and performed two songs for In Your Dreams and was on season three of The Voice, being picked by Ricky Martin to be on his team. Since then, Mia was featured on channel 7’s Molly and studied in New York for a summer at The Atlantic Acting School before moving to Perth to study acting full time at WAAPA for 3 years.
Whilst at WAAPA some of Mia’s titular roles included Titania/Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Stella in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. She also wrote and performed two original songs in the self devised piece Momentum directed and co-created by The Laramie Project’s, Andy Paris. Since graduation WAAPA in 2018 she has appeared in ABC’s, Harrow and Qui Nguyen’s award winging play Alice in Slasherland at the Old Fitz.
Justin: The show is described as “the many shapes, colour and faces of grief”. What does that actually mean?
Mia: I’ve been fascinated with grief my entire life. Because I come from a large Mediterranean family, I’ve been surrounded by a lot of death, because I had so many people alive around me which means I also had a lot of death around me. What I always found that death was so individual, everyone experiences it differently and I always found that really interesting. But I also have always felt the biggest joy that I’ve ever felt and the biggest sorrows I’ve ever felt at funerals, and it’s the same feeling with the theatre. So, in creating this show I wanted to bridge that gap a little bit and explore the complexities of grief and the light of it as much as the shades of it. I guess the many faces of grief is that even in one singular experience of grief or one loss, your experience can be so multifaceted, and it can have just as much joy as anger and denial.
I also think that we as a society feel that “grief” just means “sad”, but I think grief is the changing of a person who you used to be into someone else. Grief is the joy in remembering something that was, as well as the fear of the future without this person or this thing that you have lost. It’s so much more than just sadness and we’re often so afraid of it that we don’t often delve into it as much as what I want to show.
Justin: What made you want to write this show then? Where did the original thought come from?
Mia: Honestly, it’s quite bizarre. I started writing it about two years ago. It came out of me just thinking about grief so much throughout my life and just having the idea of going, “We feel so, so, so much and so enormously at funerals, and we also feel so enormously when we go to theatre. What would happen if I tried to bridge that gap? So, it started off really conceptual and then when I moved into developing it at the Hayes, my non-blood-related brother passed away very suddenly. Obviously after that I took a pause from writing it because I didn’t want it to be this self-indulgent, therapeutic sort of thing. But my understanding of grief deepened and expanded and then I thought that my experience of grief has validated my purpose. I realised that there are so many more things that happen within the world of grief that we don’t talk about and there’s so much shame around it. My purpose for making this show became greater and I wanted to start more of a conversation about it. Especially seeing all its colours, not just the greys.
Justin: Yeah you’re right because I know from the experiences I’ve had that you do feel a whole variety of emotions when it comes to grief and loss.
Mia: [About In Loving Memory] I said to someone the other day, “it’s about grief, but it doesn’t suck as much as grief does.” I think as a Western society we are so afraid of big feelings that we often will just suppress them rather than working harder to understand them. I know that I have had some of the most treasured moments in my life in funerals, but in the same breath I can have this feeling that is the most overwhelming sadness, then in literally the same breath later I can be laughing and the joy that I feel can be like unlike any other. And that’s all under the umbrella of grief.
We have grief as a survival technique anyway. Humans have grief in order to feel catharsis, in order to grow, to move forward and allow change. It’s scary but it’s only scary if you think of it as this one person, one face or one colour.
Justin: You’re working on this with Sam Hooper as director, Andrew Warboys as the musical director and Charlotte McInnes who has done the arrangements. What has that experience been like?
Mia: It’s been so wonderful! I had a relationship prior to this with Andrew because I worked with him on Rent. But he was the first person to come to mind because he is obviously an extraordinary musician, but he plays with his heart and he is such a storyteller. The music is such a character in this piece, he brings so much heart to everything he does. It’s just incredible.
Sam is just the best. He obviously has an experience of doing a one person show about death, it was called Death Suits You. It was kind of an obvious crossover. He’s so wonderful because he’s such an extraordinary collaborator and the most concise and compassionate director.
Charlotte hasn’t done anything like this before. She’s a performer, as well as a musician and a songwriter. I was in Tasmania for six months doing an Amazon show, and so a lot of the arrangements, well all of them, had to be done via distance. So, it was just me sending voice notes of just me and an acoustic guitar from my phone and sending it to her and going, “Oh it sounds like this”, and then she’d replied with, “Oh you mean this” and it was exactly what I wanted, it was such a skill.
I think I’ve said a couple of times that I shy away from people saying, this is a one person show. But this is not a one person show. I’m saying the words and I’ve written them but as far as it coming together as a show, the band is just as much a part of this as I am, as is Sam, as is Charlotte as is Dan, who is the designer. It’s my favourite part of theatre, it’s the best part of theatre is the collaboration. Otherwise, it would be such a lonely experience.
Justin: The collaboration in theatre is really why we do it hey?
Mia: And also, without it, it would not be good [Laughs]
Justin: Exactly! Well what would you say audiences will take away from this production? What will they hopefully leave thinking or feeling?
Mia: Ideally surprise, a little bit of joy, and maybe some cathartic relief. And hopefully a couple of songs in their head. I don’t mean to talk myself up but, damn, I’ve had my song in head for ages and that makes me feel like a total wanker but optimistic about how the show will go.
Justin: [Laughs] I always love when you leave with a song in your head, and that is what you want isn’t it?
Mia: I was singing my own song under my breath in an Uber the other day, and the guy kept looking back at me like I was insane. And you know, maybe I might be. I have a million different faces of grief going through my head at the moment, so maybe I just might be. But come see my show it will make more sense!
Justin: Would you recommend that audiences come in all blacks to fit the show?
Mia: I would love that so much. We love a theme! Please, please come in all black, it is easy to dress up. It’s winter anyway so you’ll stay warm. I think, another version of the answer to what people would take away is thinking what people are going into as well. I’d like people to know that they’re going into the safest version of a funeral they could possibly go into. In an ideal world, imagine going, “cool, I’d like to experience the catharsis and the relief that I experience at a funeral, without anyone I know dying”. Which is kind of great!
It’s such a safe environment. I carefully curated this so – I mean, I can’t say what everyone’s experiences are – but the aim is not to trigger anything. It’s not “let’s explore the sadness of this”, but let’s experience the many different flavours of grief. But I’m up here doing it, and you don’t have to worry about me, or you and we can just all hold each other’s hands and let’s go on this journey together.
In Loving Memory plays at the Hayes Theatre on from Wednesday 20th July to Saturday 23rd July. Tickets can be booked here.
Presented by Hayes Theatre Co
RUNNING TIME Approximately 60 minutes – no interval
Written by and Starring Mia Morrissey
Director Sam Hooper
Music Director Andrew Worboys
Designer Dann Barber
Arranger Charlotte Macinnes
Artwork Design Dann Barber
Artwork Photographer Nick Simpson Deeks