Black comedy fights depression
There are not many people who have the ability to turn a tragedy in their life into a entertaining play and even fewer who have the talent to share that experience with others.
Writer and actor Rob Mokaraka, however, is one such person. His determination to ensure people understand the before and after of his highly publicised encounter with the police - outside his own home in Point Chevalier on 27 July 2009 - is testament to his desire for others to avoid the same pitfalls and pain.
Rob’s experience has developed into a one-man show: Shot Bro: confessions of a depressed bullet, which he describes as a “serious black comedy about a real fight with depression”.
His intent is to provide a platform to exchange thoughts and knowledge on a kaupapa that quietly affects the lives of many people.
“I want to empower people, to provoke thought and discussion about depression and ultimately to bring our communities closer together,” Rob says.
Bullet Bulliehana walks through the storm
It has taken Rob five years and a number of script iterations to fine-tune his story and his messages.
The distilled 60-minute show weaves mime, puppetry, dance, drama and stand-up comedy together to tell his tale in a series of vignettes using characters as diverse as rugby guy, his inner critic, everyday people, a Nanny puppet, and a bullet (Rob donned in a silver helmet!).
Rob conveys his journey into depression, as well as how his own self-stigma prevented him from seeking help – to the point where he wished his life away at the hands of the police.
“It is that interaction with ‘Bullet Bulliehana’ that changed my life,” Rob says. “I found a way through the dark ‘storm’ and now I’m letting others know that it is okay, you can survive.”
Crucial to this extraordinary story is the safe space Rob has created after the show. Audience members are invited to partake in kai and korero.
“Inclusion is important, I don’t want anyone to feel alone,” he explains. “We need to look after each other, to talk and to support one another.”
Insight into Rob’s pain
The show had its inaugural development season in Whangarei in May (home to Rob’s whanau), followed by a small June run at the Bat’s Theatre in Wellington (Rob’s current hometown).
Rob says responses so far have been overwhelming. His messages seem to be opening the hearts and minds of his audiences and working on all kinds of levels.
“An eight-year-old neatly concluded that ‘sad people need hugs’; a teenager shared that her peers didn’t know about her depression, so she didn’t talk about it – and my play helped to change her perspective about that; and one man who attended said he finally realised what his grandma [who’d been in and out of psychiatric wards] had gone through.”
The performance is so engaging that many people return to see it again – bringing friends and members of their family with them.
As one attendee astutely says: "There's him [Rob], who's an expert at his craft, and then there's his mental illness and he's put the two together in such a clever and powerful way. The message is so strong, choose life."
Watch Rob's appearance on Marae - his story starts at 4:32 (login required)
Read more about Rob