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Venue:The Phoenix, 46-48A Broughton Street Edinburgh EH1 3SA
Phone: 0131 557 6944
Links: Click Here for venue details, Click here for map
Ticket Prices: Free  
Room: Phoenix Below
AUG 15-26 at 17:15 (60 min)
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Darkly humorous energetic play about the absurdist nature of work and mental illness.

Do you have what it takes to become our next DEPRESSION SUPERSTAR? We are looking for a super inefficient, dedicated team member to join our established brand.

Our ideal candidate will be an anxious, stressed out individual with excellent self loathing and low motivational skills, pays high attention to the negative details and a willingness to waste their time and give up on their dreams and goals.

Are you this candidate? Do you feel that you're not good enough? That you're not intelligent enough? Attractive enough? Aren't successful enough? Do you have a chemical imbalance in your brain? Are you lacking in sleep? Or do you just happen to live in a society where depression and anxiety are basic functions of your existence?

We here at Self Co have just the job for you! (We offer zero pay and inflexible hours. Self Co is committed to building a diverse workforce and believes in equality of opportunity. We welcome applications from individuals, regardless of their background.)

'Tenacious' (Theatreview.org.nz). 'Serious belly laughs' (Craccum). 'Superbly acted. Important incisive commentary' (Mental Health Foundation NZ). 'Thoroughly entertaining' (Theatrey Stuff). 'The laughs flowed throughout' (Seriously Journal).

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News and Reviews for this Show

June 29, 2018 The AM Show
Ever had a boss you just don't get on with?
Ever had a boss you just don't seem to get along with?

Well, writer and producer, Hope Kennedy-Smith wants you to use that experience to better understand mental health..

She spoke to Duncan Garner. Click Here

March 5, 2018 Craccum University of Auckland Student Magazine
Welcome to Self Co.
Mental illness is an intricately difficult subject
to broach when devising a performance. Even
more so, when introducing comedy onto the
stage. Hope Kennedy-Smith smartly manages
both in her production of Welcome to Self Co.
This play expresses the brutal rigidity of
mental illness. It presents the monotonous
reality of the corporate workplace, balanced
cleverly with the agility of comedy. We see
protagonist, Louise, willingly plunge into the
servitude of mental instability, and come to
true defiance of its grip over her life.
The play provides a fresh perspective of
mental illness and its function. Kennedy-Smith
does an incredible job of subverting
our ‘standard’ perception of mental illness
as a black-and-white issue, and muses
that mental illness is more a societal burden,
much like a job, rather than a “choice”.
By personifying Louise’s struggle with mental
illness as a “shitty office job”, the reality
of mental illness, from a seed to a raging
fire, is laid bear. I was forced to recognise
the impact of mental illness, in a way both
relatable and highly intriguing. Boldly, the
play establishes mental illness, and our
ability to carry on daily life as best we can,
are inextricable concepts.
Comedy not only made this play attractive
and, lets face it, light-hearted in the face of
extremely heavy undertones, but created an
intelligent irony. Millennials are not unknown
for the ability to mask traumatisation with
laughter. This play magnifies this ideology,
tenfold. A stark juxtaposition throughout,
between gags and brazen theatricality, and
mental disease; made this play sobering
relatable; a slight nod towards a societal need
for the responsibility of mental illness.
Kennedy-Smith was not ashamed to be
vulnerable in the presence of onlookers.
Capturing my attention whole-heartedly,
she beautifully presented the layers and
complexities of mental illness. With very few
props or set design: Kennedy-Smith creates
some serious belly-laughs, as well as confronts
us with the reality of mental illness, in a
society fraught with mental labour.
Enjoy your “on-boarding.” Click Here

March 1, 2018 Internal eBulletin Mental Health Foundation New Zealand
Review: Welcome to Self Co. Nicola Corner, Mental Health Foundation
In my experience, some of the best plays are the ones that are open to interpretation. They move us beyond the theatre to the discussion afterwards, and to new perspectives.
I found Welcome to Self Co to be one of those shows. Inventive, witty and satirical, the play centres on Louise, a young woman who, after being hounded by an inner voice telling her she “must be productive”, finds herself a new office job. As the audience soon discovers, however, this is not just any job. The job interview swears a commitment to a life of stress and Louise’s first assigned task is to give herself a panic attack. Induction then involves practicing selling “existential dread” to a client. The positions description, condescendingly narrated by her manager, reads:
Do you have what it takes to become our next DEPRESSION SUPERSTAR? We are looking for a super inefficient, dedicated team member to join our established brand. Our ideal candidate will be an anxious, stressed out individual with excellent self-loathing and low motivational skills, pays high attention to the negative details and a willingness to waste their time and give up on their dreams and goals.
In brilliantly sardonic fashion, the play then follows Louise as she sells depression packages to “Welcome to Self Co clients”, all while dealing with an overbearing manager whose entire job appears to be predicated on tearing down any feelings of enjoyment, confidence or self-worth. Though this sounds heavy, the play stays away from being overly serious, revealing its depth through entertaining, over the top characters and clever satire.
Yet, as anyone that has had a draconian boss or felt consumed by the pressures of working life can relate to, the extreme scenario at Welcome to Self Co could easily be read as a caricature of the strain that working life can sometimes exert over our mental health. Louise loses touch with her friends, obsesses over work after hours and is called in for menial tasks over the weekend. When her manager suggests Louise take a break and go on holiday, she is told to fill it with drugs and alcohol. In a context of growing workplace stress, it’s incisive commentary.
Yet, another closely linked interpretation that a friend and I discussed after the show explored the notion of mental illness as the full-time job in and of itself. Phrases like “the daily grind” and the “treadmill” have a traditional workplace association, yet the metaphors could easily carry across to the work that is put into managing a condition like depression. Just like a treadmill, there can be the feeling of being trapped on a plane that you can’t seem to get off, of being sapped of your physical and mental energy, of constantly pushing to regain control. And the experience of having to do this, day after day, can feel exactly like a “daily grind”. In this sense, the play could be read as an exploration into the “work” of mental illness, with the packages that Louise is selling to clients day in and day out really being sold to herself. A striking example of this in the play was reflected in a scene where Louise is asked to sort through files, grouped according to their particular affliction: self- loathing, existential dread, self-destructive behaviour. Through the mundane symbolism of sorting files, the scene felt like a poignant reflection of how mental illness is not always punctuated by dramatic events, but rather can also manifest in the same thoughts and habits circulating day by day, to the point of almost numbing routine.
It’s these complexities that make Welcome to Self Co so important. It’s funny for sure, and it’s superbly acted, but more importantly it opens up dialogue on a much needed conversation. It’s worth seeing - whatever your interpretation may be. Click Here

February 22, 2018  Theatrey Stuff
Review: Welcome to Self Co (Tiny Theatre Garnet Station)
Corporate humour is, for the most part, fairly safe ground. It is an area to which most people can drag up unpleasant memories about being a mouse in a wheel to relate to the jokes about them. The only risk when making a sketch show of corporate humour is to play it too safe and tell jokes and create scenarios we have seen a million times before, or else don't deliver on the physical comedy as much as necessary to truly mock the office work place., for example see "Enterprise" at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017. "Welcome to Self Co." introduces us to Louise, who has just landed her "dream job" working for Self Co., working hard to produce and sell depression and poor life choices to herself and others.

The sketches comprise of fast and sharp comedy where Louise's life gets more and more down hill as she is gradually lumbered with being over worked, underpaid, and underappreciated, all delivered in painful corporate lingo. In doing so the show spoke about a serious issue without being too serious in delivery, coming across almost as forgiving for anyone in the audience going through similar emotions caused by similar reasons.

Written by and starring Hope Kennedy-Smith, each joke isolated is only as good as its delivery. Some jokes go on for long stretches of time, for example when being interviewed for her new job Louise is asked if she is willing to "binge eat", "work long hours", give up on her "hopes, dreams and aspirations", the list goes on and on. Even so, jokes like this remain funny throughout on the back of the performances of Kennedy-Smith and the supporting cast - Michaela Spratt as the Boss and Titiana Daniels as Louise's friend and co-worker. Spratt is especially entertaining through her incredibly expressive face portraying her eternal disgust.

There is not a great deal of variety in the performance - most jokes are one liners ("Then go down to the paranoia department - don't ask anyone anything I don't trust them") and are delivered at one hundred miles per hour, but it has a satisfyingly consistent pace and it thoroughly entertaining for it. You will most likely recognise some aspect of Louise's predicament in your own life, so whether you're looking for a little relief in the black comedy of office-induced depression, or just a chuckle at the lunacy of the corporate world, "Welcome to Self Co." is definitely worth seeing. Four stars.

Whispers from the crowd:

"I thought it was really good - it's a challenging subject, but it could apply to anyone, which is really cool." Click Here

February 21, 2018 Seriously Journal
Laughing in the Dark
Writer and actor Hope Kennedy-Smith insists that her play Welcome to Self Co. is relatively light-hearted, considering it focuses entirely on the most suffocating aspects of dealing with depression and anxiety.

Desperate for work, two women (played by Hope and first-time performer Tatiana Daniels) take jobs at Self Co., where their boss (Michaela Spratt) is a nightmarish, Miss Trunchbull-esque embodiment of the worst aspects of both mental illness and office life.

Directed by Patrick Graham, the play draws on the absurdism of Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros and is heavily influenced by the work of controversial writer Johann Hari. His book Lost Connections makes a case that there needs to be far more of a focus on the social causes of mental illness — letting people gain a sense of meaning and belonging, for example.

“He was quoting these stats from America in a recent Gallup poll that said only 13 percent of people in America love their jobs, 24 percent of people absolutely hate it, and the other 63 percent of people are just doing it because they have to,” Hope says.

“If you think about that, the majority of people’s waking life is spent at work, rather than something you really enjoy, and most jobs are about making someone else money at the end of the day so they can have more luxuries.”

This makes Hope’s own political leanings fairly clear, but she’s worked hard to make the play challenging for even the most liberal audiences.

“You always want to make the audience think for themselves,” she says. “You always want to make it subtle and get both sides as well.”

“It’s always good to make the audience a bit uncomfortable.”

The confronting play moves at lightning speed, and is based on the idea that having depression and anxiety to having a full-time job, while also delving into “how workplaces can be quite toxic”.

Hope says that even if the audience hasn’t experienced mental illness themselves, it remains relatable as “everyone’s had a boss they hate”.

“You can be really lucky with certain jobs where people are really good about mental health things and you can talk about your problems and your work is like, ‘It’s fine, you’re depressed, you need to take time off’. But I think the majority of people don’t work in workplaces where they can do that,” she says.

“It’s quite often that, depending on how high up you get, you get infantilised a lot and people who have shifts that are very very stringent — you only get fifteen minutes for a break and you have no control over your work either. That causes people so much stress and can be really dehumanising.”

“It also seems to be a thing that people who are bullies seem to be quite perfect for management roles.”

While the laughs flowed throughout the show at Garnet Station, as we left the theatre, I heard people saying it felt strange to laugh at, and therefore identify with, the play's darkest humour in the company of strangers, or even friends.

My friend pointed out it’s exactly the kind of jokes you'd usually give a quiet like to on social media: you can know that others have felt the same sense of self-loathing, or "existential dread", but you don't actually have to discuss it with anyone.

Hope says she finds shows and podcasts that deal with mental illness through comedy to be “empowering” and loves hearing creative people share experiences she can identify with.

She cites US podcast The Hilarious World of Depression as an influence, as well as the 90s comedy Office Space for its portrayal of menial work.

“When you’re down and depressed or anxious being able to laugh at your own misery is completely sometimes the only thing that can get you through,” she says.

“I have a really great best friend and we do that all the time. We send each other 15 minute updates on our mental health all day long and they’re always funny and it’s good having someone to laugh with about the absurdity of the situation.”

“I think laughing at depression is a really good way of addressing it: I’ve had lots of people who have seen the show and said it’s an insight into what it’s like for people, even if they haven’t experienced depression or anxiety,” she says.

“But it’s in a comedic way because nobody wants to go and be depressed in a theatre.”

Hope says there’s a potential it will go on to be used as a resource in schools and she’s also applied for the Edinburgh Free Fringe.

Personally, she says the process of creating and acting in Welcome to Self Co. has been incredibly cathartic and that she’s been “so much healthier since doing it”.

“I’ve been finding it’s a really great process being able to somehow capitalise on my mental health to beat it in a way.”

“It’s a way in my head to be able to manage it and control it, writing it all down and forming it into something has worked really, really well… I wish lots of other people could find ways to do things like that.” Click Here

October 28, 2017 Theatreview
Hope Kennedy Smith has written a show as a contribution to the Atawhai Festival that evokes the dull squirm of mental illness as it might sit in the corporate workplace. This carries an uneasy reflection on the universal state of unwellness that might pervade the isolated existence of any young person who finds themselves trying to do the right thing by taking a job in an office – whether as a Customer Service rep for a large company on the phones, or at a computer desk – and questioning the time they give away to the corporate world.

The Atawhai Festival, created by Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho, has centred mostly at Te Pou theatre in New Lynn, but the Tiny Theatre at Garnet Station is well purposed to host small theatrical works, and works in development, as an ‘off-off-off-Broadway' kind of space.

With a very simple set, and support from director Patrick Graham, Kennedy Smith puts words in the air that reflect the meaningless oppression of the workforce without creativity, without solution and without escape.

On the wall behind her are the many tasks she is set to achieve. In this corporation, the nature of the work is to suffer and any real-world context of what exactly the job is, is ignored amid a sea of manila folders: Shame; Under Achieving; Irrational Fears; Wasting Time; Insomnia ...

The show is demure and linear, taking the almost stupefied protagonist to the brink of despair, but even the despair is couched in a banality that falls short of any emotive turmoil.

I would suggest that it is a difficult task to make theatre about mental health. The jury is still out on the meanings and impetus of the words we use in discussing mental health issues, because the whole gamut of mental health has not been a regular discourse – and that will be evident in the reasoning behind making a festival of this nature. Atawhai means to show kindness, caring, and the Festival succeeds in its community and its willingness. I hope very much it becomes a regular occurrence.

The Boss in Our Lives is very honest in its approach and its message, effectively reminding us that the main tonality of mental health issues, as they are suffered by a majority, is of suffocating and disabling rigidity. It may lead to desperation and awful demanding choices, but the apparent aspects of mental health are often quiet.

Quiet. ‘Not waving but drowning' is the main social message I receive as a reminder from this show. In fact drowning is a great analogy for this warning because it also happens silently, and often when we least expect it.

Between the worlds of anxiety as it exists in the personal and the corporate worlds, we may see a multitude of people who are suffering from mental health issues. But when issues are compounded, or when the supportive aspects of life – as in friends, family, creative endeavours – are missing, the protagonist turns inward rather than outward and a kind of push-me pull-you thought process invades her head.

A simple show to a simple purpose, it nevertheless provides some hefty food for thought. I will refrain from critiquing the stagecraft, except to say that Jaqui Whall and Sarah Mules host a great presence on the edge of the stage and their further involvement in the dynamic of the show would probably enhance Hope Kennedy-Smith's performance. Conversely it's possible the show could mould itself into a one-woman show.

However I mostly see it as an existentialist nightmare, linear in context and absurd in its entrapment. And in the tradition of great existential constructs, it would be good to see further development in character and character relationships, even if they are unsolvable and open-ended. A counterpart of joy does emerge very briefly, in the curtain call.

One tenacious aspect of this work is the theme of greater society's responsibility in mental health. A prominent theme that is bound to come out of a mental health festival of arts (which has included seminars, workshops and poetry performances as well as theatre) is a closer look at the membranes of responsibility and accountability between those suffering, the organizations designed to help them, and the wider community.

This is a large topic but it's important to get those conversations happening. To extend the ‘corporation as psychopath' theme – read Joel Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, or watch the movie – there's a powerful and important discourse to be had in New Zealand in direct relation to our political structures as they have unfolded over recent years.

It's been thrilling in the last couple of weeks to see so many New Zealanders at all financial levels and walks of life acting with a determination to have and continue those conversations. Government certainly cannot be run as a corporation without a devastating effect on its people. And people cannot run as a cog in the machine without mental health ramping up into a national disaster that rings bells for international watchdogs. One thing that has been evident from Government in New Zealand over the last nine years is an attack on intellectual thinking, critical thinking in education and on the arts and performance industry.

Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho's Atawhai Festival puts a case for more drama in the theatre and a little less, perhaps, in the police cells, the jails, the overflowing hospital emergency wards, the funeral parlours, and the busting-at-the-seams mental health organisations of our country.

The Boss in Our Lives runs for one more evening at the Garnet Station Little Theatre, at 8pm tonight (Saturday the 28th October). Click Here

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