Fi Peel, Bathurst Storyteller/Producer
"As the cast drifted back out of the theatre and the stage lights went down, I stood in the empty space, amidst socially distanced statically set chairs and my eyes wandered all over the room. I was astounded at where we had all come from and the moment we were about to share with each other and the community."
When Tim asked me to become the Producer for what would become This Is My Brave Australia’s sixth show, Bathurst was still in lockdown. I will not lie, I was disappointed. I had only just arrived in my new regional home and the start of the year and had made a deliberated decision to get out into the community as much as I could. I wanted to break the cycles that had held me captive for so long, so I had found myself volunteering, joining choirs, returning to voice lessons for the first time in 20 years and even considered auditioning for local theatre productions.
As the world began to shut down and I watched people in my social media
feed become increasingly confused, angry and even fearful I reassured
myself that this was not going to be a forever thing. That we would come
out the other side. Much like living through a severe bout of depression but on a societal level. I
busied myself in other projects but admittedly spent many days in bed, reading, writing, researching
and watching way too much Netflix. In the weeks prior to lockdown, I had auditioned for a local
musical that the director was forced to hibernate two days before the first full cast read-through of
the script and the TIMBA show in Hurstville that I had put my hand up to audition for was also
I wondered whether TIMBA would consider collaborating in some kind of digital space. It was late
April and there was no sign of restrictions easing. I decided to record the audition piece that I had
intended for the TIMBA show and sent it off to Tim. I was embarrassed at the quality of both the
video and my performance but the lesson I had learned as a teenager in performance skills echoed
in the back of my mind. Bring your best and let the audience do the rest. I hit the send button on the
email and shortly thereafter found myself in a Zoom meeting with Tim. We discussed my ideas and
we both quickly realised that the concept that I had in my head was not quite right for a TIMBA
format. Tim’s next two questions though set me completely off kilter. Why not Bathurst? Will you be
my local producer?
I was completely gobsmacked as two juxtaposed thoughts smashed into my mind. The first: I am
nothing. Why me? The second ricocheted off the first: I can do this. I know I can do this. I hesitated
for just a second while I determined which thought to hold in my head and then heard myself saying
yes. I had not been in a full-scale production for 14 years. I had not been in a backstage or walk-on
support role for more than 6. I had never produced anything and my one time as an assistant
director in my college musical at ANU at 19 was anything but formative. But I knew theatre like my
own mind. So, I said yes.
Suddenly the world began to speed up. I picked up my phone and began conversations with the
Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre, placing a soft hold on the venue. A relationship developed
with Bathurst Neighbourhood Centre and we soon found ourselves with a space to hold our Meet
The Producers sessions and auditions. As our cast started to come together and workshop their
audition pieces I found that I was oddly at home in the role. I settled into production mode and what
I discovered as I guided my fellow storytellers through our rehearsals, directorial mode as well. I was
building something in collaboration with Tim that was deeply meaningful not only to those in our
cast but would also resonate with so many in the room on the 20 th of October. I was living and
breathing dreams that I had long given up on, building the heart of my peer work training into the
space, drawing on editorial skills I had developed during the course of my university studies in
creative writing. A vision was developing in my head and as I constantly checked in with Tim, I began
to grow in confidence. I knew what I was doing. For the first time in my life, I knew what I was doing.
As the rehearsal phase continued, I increasingly found cast members looking to me for advice and
support. On the one hand I was humbled by their faith in me. On the other hand, I was terrified. As I
worked my way through a particularly distressing risk of homelessness cycle that had been thrust
upon me due to the rental market crisis, I was also working my way through my latest suicidal crisis. I
knew how to keep myself safe – I had learned that long ago – but my head churned as guilt sunk into my soul. I had always kept my circles so tight, knowing that if I lost the battle with this demon that I would destroy the ones I loved, but now the world was starting to open up for me in ways that I had never dreamed possible.
If I lost the battle now, the ripple effect was going to be so much larger.
Should I really be doing what I was doing? And yet I found I was dragging myself out of bed to get to
various rehearsals and meetings. I had made a commitment to people around me and for the first
time in over a decade, I was needed for more than two or three weeks at a time. I was not going to
let these people down.
As Spring began to emerge, so too did what I can now only describe as a new me. We began to pick
up more sponsors for our TIMBA production. More and more dormant skillsets began to emerge and
I noted them, thanking the universe for allowing me to surreptitiously develop them in the disjointed
way that I had through years of depression and what I had been told was dysfunction. As we stepped into the theatre for our tech run at BMEC two days prior to opening the show and I stood at the sound desk, using my operatic projection to guide the cast on the other side of the hall, I was finally at home in my own skin. As the cast drifted back out of the theatre and the stage lights went down, I stood in the empty space, amidst socially distanced statically set chairs and my eyes wandered all over the room. I was astounded at where we had all come from and the moment we were about to share with each other and the community.
A local media personality had attended our final rehearsal and had interviewed most of our cast
during that final rehearsal. As I sat with him in Machattie Park and chatted all things TIMBA he
questioned me about my own story and then interviewed Tim. As production mode then ramped up
yet another notch in the following 12 hours, George shot me through the final cut of the podcast. I
listened with excitement as the podcast unfolded until I heard my own voice. “There was a point in
my life when I was in the emergency department every two or three weeks with suicidal distress”.
My heart stopped a beat. I caught my breath as the podcast played on and we heard glimpses of
stories that I knew were a part of my storyteller’s backgrounds. My voice then dropped back into the
podcast. “I can remember sitting with my parents, Christmas last year and saying, I am just broken
and I am never going to be anything else. That’s just who I am.” As the podcast played out, I fought
back tears and the realisation sunk in that I had never articulated this to the cast. I had kept my
“broken” neatly tucked away in the back of my mind, ashamed at who I had been and terrified that if
it truly came to light that the people I had been guiding would doubt my ability to do so. That their
faith in me would be truly shaken.
It was 9am the morning before the show and there was still so much to do. I reeled my tears back in,
put my head down and began to plough through once more, but I did drift back to that podcast
several times over the course of the day and let thoughts sift through in dribs and drabs. I had
already begun to prepare the pre-show warm up with the help of my daughter. As I called sponsors
and chased stallholders for our Mental Health Expo, finalised the script and sorted through ticket
allocation, I was also considering what I wanted to say the cast in those moments before the show
and how. I had spent so many rehearsals saying “this is your moment to shine”. But I was using the
wrong language. The story was awry. There was one pivotal word I needed to change. Our. I was up
there on that stage telling my story too. At what point had I disconnected from the process?
We were into the theatre at 3pm. Last minute staging changes were negotiated and stallholders
began to filter through the doors for set-up, followed by the cast. As I directed them upstairs for our
pre-show warm up my heart was pounding. As we stood in that room and named our feelings an
hour prior to the curtains going up I knew what I had to do. My walls came down and I let them in.
A cast member tried to respond and I shut her down as gently as I could. Another cast member had
said to me following the final rehearsal that I was the reason we had all come together and I couldn’t
let it sink in. I was able to articulate my brokenness but I wasn’t ready to hear the response. I knew
that I was being met in that space with love and shared understanding but I still had a job to do. So,
we moved on.
As I walked the cast through the last-minute staging changes, had them settled into their Covid-safe
dressing rooms and pulled together the final pieces of the production side of things, I found a
calmness growing within me. My mind was still in a million places and my speed of my speech belied
my internal sense of peace but in those moments before the show, I knew I was doing something
that I had always been born to do. I noted it and then focused on the next enquiry as I coordinated
needs and caught last-minute hiccups.
And then that moment arrived. The cast filed onto the stage and took their places, the house lights
dimmed and our special guest performer strummed the first few chords of her guitar. Story after
story began to unfold on that stage and I sat back and listened. Cast members I had approached to
write blogposts for the TIMBA page wove their blog posts into their stories at the last minute and I
sat in amazement as I heard layers and levels thread through the night that I had not previously
heard in the rehearsal space. These amazing people were owning the brave space that we had
created. One of our cast members brought the room to laughter and tears almost simultaneously.
Not long after that, it was my turn to step up to the mic.
As my story began and I breathed into that moment I realised that something else had fallen off me.
My tone was different. The piece that I had aired in the rehearsal space, an unapologetic call to
action, began to take on a different timbre as the words tumbled out of my mouth. It was still
unapologetic. It was still a call to action. But as I heard myself speak it out, it was spoken with
freedom and joy. I was unwittingly freeing myself from another bond of my own sense of slavery. In
rehearsals, I had approached the delivery of my story in the same way as I had everything else: head
down, plough through and then jump straight back in to “production- mode” desperate to deflect
drawing any further attention to my own sense of inadequacy. But on that stage, in that moment I
knew I was finally bringing my best. I left it there in the room for the audience to do with it whatever
As the show drew to a close with our final storyteller’s piece, enhanced by her daughter’s dance, I
listened to the spoken audio that overlaid the song and lyrics:
You are beautiful
You are smart
You are funny
You are kind
You are unique
You are worthy of love and affection
You are never too much and you are always enough
You are precious
You are a diamond
You are a rose, a pearl, the most stunning of all God’s creation
You are worth more than you could ever imagine
As the audience applauded and the house lights went up those lyrics had finally seeped into my own soul. And I knew the thing that had desperately needed to shift in the core of my being had finally been dislodged.
I am still learning to step into the praise that has come about in the days following the show but at
least now I don’t want to push it away. At least now, I can let it sit. And the smile was almost a
product of cursory politeness is now a genuine reflection of my own sense of self.
To Melissa, Jock, Mark, Sharyn, Sammy, Trish, Alice, Steve, Rich, Sharelle, Lila, Tim Heffernan, Jac,
Aunty Shirley, Colin, Jane, Jayne, Alex and my volunteers, our sponsors and stallholders and of
course, Tim Daly. Thank you. Storytelling does indeed save lives.