baStaying in bed is usually associated with being lazy, ill, sleeping or having sex. Tracey Emin managed to turn a bed-ridden depression in to a piece of art, the notorious ‘My Bed’. And Brigitte Aphrodite has turned three weeks of staying in bed, so numb with depression she couldn’t communicate with anyone, into a musical, allegedly a ‘tidal wave of glitter’, which sounds the very opposite of depression. Most of us try to hide mental health issues in order to project the busy, fabulous and fun exterior modern life demands. Aphrodite instead decided to explore her depression through music, poetry and theatre. Naming it after Churchill’s name for depression, ‘Black Dog’, she went one further and named it My Beautiful Black Dog.

Volt Café caught up with Aphrodite before her upcoming performance at the Tom Thumb Theatre in Margate.

Volt Café: What is your background creatively? And where does the fabulous surname originate from? Is it real or did you make it up?
Brigitte Aphrodite: It IS real! It’s my middle name, my family’s Greek. I trained as a creative actor at E15, which is known as a ‘naked school’, lots of method acting. It has quite a rep. Damon Albarn was thrown out from E15, and Ruby Wax. Alison Steadman wasn’t. I didn’t want to be a jobbing actor but I loved writing. Did a stand-up routine at Edinburgh which led to going on tour with Kate Nash, got a band together then had periods where I was completely bedbound.

VC: When did those start?
BA: Last year at drama school. Found it hard to muster up the courage, couldn’t stop crying. Stopped washing; still went to school every day but it was very hard. The bed thing was a way of re-charging but despite doing that, it just got worse, everything was sort of colourless.

VC: Then you toured with Josie Long?
BA: Yes. And the money from that afforded me the luxury of actually admitting how I felt.

VC: Often when you’re poor there’s this necessity to hold things together… It’s bad enough to try to manage on little money so you don’t want to add depression into the picture. How did the money make it better?
BA: It meant I could afford a safe rented flat with my partner and that gave me the breathing space and the courage to tell him what was going on. I then tried medical intervention where I was put on waiting lists for therapy and meanwhile they were trying to make me take pills. But I was scared about doing that. I realised I needed to help myself.

VC: MBBD is ‘a tidal wave of glitter’, a punk musical about depression. Did you feel fed up with the embarrassed silence that surrounds depression?
BA: I felt sad about all the time I’d wasted in bed. I love life! I’m from a family of party people! I wanted to ‘come out’ as a depressive and I felt there were other people suffering the same. It has taken three years to get to this point because I felt so shy about the subject matter. Mental issues are on the rise because the economy is squeezing everyone.

VC: I think the general fear is that once you tell people you’re seen as unemployable or a liability.
BA: Yes, it was underlined that workplaces are not supportive. Different is not celebrated unless it can be put into a box and marketed. You need to look good on social media at all times.

VC: Do you still feel depressed? And if so, how do you deal with it now?
BA: Brain and hormones have a certain maximum capacity. I get creatively ‘high’ and then when reality and problems weigh in, low again. I’m better at recognising it now.

VC: I read you invented FRUNNING as one way to get better?
BA: Yes, it was my Rocky Balboa patch when I knew I needed to move in order to get better. I used to get my partner to drive me to my local divey gym. He’d go for a pint and I’d try to stay as long as possible before calling him.

VC: What, like an hour?
BA: I think at first it was more like five minutes… but I started doing dance moves on the thread mill because I was so bored. Then I’d go to the park with my friend Gemma Cairney and we’d run and dance around, hug trees and sometimes wear sequin pants on top of our leggings and big bows in our hair. Just for fun, we’d shout and sing and make it into a childish game. Now we always FRUN before rehearsals or performances. You can do anything! Someone might just sit in a corner, tapping their foot in an angry way. And that’s ok.

VC: Is there a real life black dog?
BA: Yes! The black lab in the photo is my dog Luke. The title is a reference to taking ownership of what Churchill called ‘Black Dog’. It’s the taking ownership that is beautiful, not the depression in itself.

Brigitte Aphrodite has a studio album coming out in 2016 with all the songs from MBBD.

Catch My Beautiful Black Dog at

Tom Thumb Theatre
Margate
14th November

Hackney Showroom
London
18th – 20th November

Mockingbird Theatre
Birmingham,
4th December

The Continental
Preston
9th December 2015

Image © Olivier Richomme
Brigitte Aphrodite styled by Lizzie Cardwell

Words by Anna Bang

Tags

Alison Steadman, anna bang, Damon Albarn, gemma cairney, Hackney Showroom, Josie Long, Kate Nash, Lizzie Cardwell, MBBD, Mockingbird Theatre, My Beautiful Black Dog, Olivier Richomme, Ruby Wax, The Continental, Tom Thumb Theatre, Tracey Emin,