Odd Daphne is a cake-smashing stage play which confronts mental distress myths and discrimination by re-enacting a real Pasifika family’s mental distress experiences. It was funded by a 2018 Like Minds, Like Mine Community Grant.
We sat down with Joshua Iosefo, the play’s writer and director, to hear about his sold-out season at Māngere Arts Centre.
Q: How was Odd Daphne born?
Odd Daphne was the first play I’ve ever written and directed. It was based on my own lived experience of mental distress and the mental distress some members of my family experienced.
Odd Daphne shows how our different family members reacted to – and also sometimes avoided! – dealing with those experiences and each other.
Q: Who got involved in the play?
A whole range of people jumped on board – my parents, uncles, aunties, friends, as well as my old drama teacher and performing arts collective MMØS.
Q: Do you think that Pasifika families experience mental distress prejudice in a specific way?
Yes, because our culture is embedded with many layers of respect, there is a real low level of self-disclosure. For example, it’s not common to say you’ve had a bad day. You always present yourself well and only share with specific people, not necessarily your nuclear family.
Sharing mental distress can be quite shameful for some Pasifika, not just individually, but as a family.
Q: How does the play introduce mental distress as a subject?
Odd Daphne was a Trojan horse. The play is high-energy – it’s outrageous and out-there and smashes cakes in people’s faces – but underneath it all you’ve got this really heart-felt message about how we understand mental distress.
I crafted it in this way because I’ve seen plays where as soon as mental distress is mentioned, it becomes dreary or gloomy. People can be really put off because of the stigma attached.
We do kind-of trick people in a way, but by the time they find out it’s too late – they’ve already bought the ticket and are sitting down!
Q: How did getting your whole family to act in the play add to the message?
By performing to people as young as 10 right up to 50-plus years of age, we were able to speak to many generations at once and portray their roles on stage.
There’s so much power in a family going through a mental distress journey in real life, and then helping another family on a similar journey through a play. It gave us purpose.
Q: How did the community react?
People were really moved and surprised by how we interacted with mental distress experiences in the play - it was eye-opening and confronting. We had a standing ovation every night!
A parent I spoke to afterwards wanted to learn his children’s love language. People asked how they could sign up for the mental health first aid training as well.
Q: What was the best thing the Grants enabled you to do?
I was planning to self-fund Odd Daphne because it was a story that really needed to be told and shared to reduce mental distress discrimination. To get funding was a huge weight off my shoulders.
The support of Like Minds, Like Mine was almost like having an older sibling! It was validating to have it recognised in this way.
Q: What would you say to someone who is thinking about applying?
When I read the email that I’d won it, I just screamed!
The opportunity is there. Be very clear with what you want to do, and how the Grant and its mission can help you.