WellBless At Theatre Works In Melbourne – Exposing The Ill-Informed Wellness Industry

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'WellBless' 'WellBless'

In a world so saturated by negativity, we're all just trying to look after ourselves – some more than others.

In 'WellBless' by Debra Thomas and Ella Roth Barton, the parasitic world of 'wellness' is explored and examined, as sisters Juniper and Ava's wellness programme is thrust into potential disarray and disbandment when an 'Insta-famous' cancer patient decides to follow the programme in lieu of traditional treatments. . . With fatal results.

Instead of coming clean, the sisters work with their panel of 'experts' to spin and concoct a story with the intent of clearing them of responsibility and hiding the truth. 'WellBless' puts this trillion dollar industry – and its target toward vulnerable women – under the microscope.

Here, Co-Creator/Performer Debra Thomas tells us more about the play and its topics, as well as sharing her close-to-home perspective on the situation.

Tell us a bit about ‘WellBless’.
'WellBless' is a satire about the wellness industry – most especially Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop empire. It’s a high-energy show full of spectacle and has plenty of laughs, but it also has a lot of heart. We examine the danger and ridiculousness of wellness practices such as foreskin facials and vaginal steaming, but we also unpack how the medical industry’s failing of women has empowered this industry to thrive.

We’re out of lockdown! How excited are you to be presenting this show post-restrictions and lockdowns?!
We’re THRILLED to finally get to share this gem of a show with Melbourne. It’s been a long and bumpy ride for us – our initial run during the 2020 Melbourne International Comedy Festival was postponed. But the delay and the pandemic gave us the chance to explore the wellness industry’s exploitation of COVID-19. It’s now more relevant than ever. Melbourne desperately needs some laughs right now, as well as time to reflect on the past two years – we’re happy to provide both and see all of your beautiful faces again!

The audience is incorporated in the show (don’t worry readers. . . No participation necessary!), can you give us a hint about how this will happen?
The show was inspired by a brilliant Lindy West (creator of 'Shrill') article a few years ago after she’d attended the In Goop Health Summit. Taking her lead, we’ve set our show at a fictional wellness summit for brand WellBless – wellness when you are #blessed. Since it’s live theatre, casting the audience as the conference attendees lets us play with the public vs the private sphere in a fun and engaging way. It also dramatically heightens the stakes and the theatricality when the audience are playing a key character in the show. There’s always the ‘threat’ of audience participation, but don’t stress – we never pull anyone up on stage (particularly not in a COVID-19 world) or do anything more than wink at you.

Why do you think people are so obsessed with trying to cash in on the idea of wellness?
For gurus, it’s money. When people are desperate and vulnerable, they’ll try anything, and snake oil salesmen know this. For those turning to wellness, it’s far more complex. We all have needs that are not met by the world, and wellness promises to give you everything; better skin, a better sex life, and even better health. Best of all, there’s no work required – you just need to buy the recommended product.

And why do you think it works so often?
The world is not built for women. Medicine has historically ignored us, and the idea of ‘hysteria’ certainly hasn’t gone anywhere. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had very serious conditions that went undiagnosed for years because doctors just accused me of being ‘stressed’. Of course I was stressed – I was sick. But it took so long for doctors to find the actual problem because they made assumptions about my capacity to judge what was going on with my own body. This is an incredibly common experience for women – we’re gaslit into believing we’re fine when we’re not, and when we finally get answers (if we ever do) it’s incredibly liberating. Wellness gurus feed on this. When they stand up and make you feel seen, heard, and validated in your experiences, it can be very seductive.

What are you hoping to communicate to audiences in this show?
Wellness sells the idea that women need to ‘cleanse’ and ‘detox’ – this is patriarchal bullsh.t. It reinforces old religious ideologies of women’s bodies needing to be ‘pure’, and Ella and I have zero tolerance for that. Your bodies are not dirty, and you are allowed to live your life without paying exorbitant amounts of money for a juice that can only hope to cleanse you by giving you diarrhoea. Buy chocolate instead and live a life that celebrates pleasure and enjoyment rather than restraint. The only benefactor of your restraint is men who want to silence you, and the wellness gurus looking to take your money.

Tell us a bit about the cast and crew of this show. It mostly features female-identifying artists, correct?
Yes, five out of six of our cast members are female-identifying, as is our director. They’re all hilarious and bring tonnes of energy to the room. How much fun we’re all having really translates into our performances. Joseph (Lai) and Lauren (Steiner) are brilliant with physical comedy, Andrea (Mendez) can improv better than any actor I’ve ever met, Emily (Joy) is so hilarious I can barely hold a straight face, and Ella is just an all-round goddess. I’m also there with an aerial sequence that brings my love of pole dance to the stage.

You’ve got quite the unique personal perspective on this matter. Tell us about that.
I was diagnosed with cancer in 2018. I was 30 and very fit, so it obviously came as a total shock. I got plenty of unsolicited advice about how I needed to ‘re-evaluate my life choices’ to avoid relapse. People meant well, but what I really needed was support – instead I got judged on everything I’d done that had ‘led to’ me getting sick, and everything I ‘should be doing now’ to be better in the future. The implication that it was all my fault was incredibly toxic and did my mental health no favours. Nor did the idea of Gerson Therapy – pressed juices and coffee enemas – assist with my physical recovery (to be fair I never tried them, but I stand by my statement). This experience sparked the desire to write the show with Ella.

How would you describe ‘WellBless’ in three words?
Hilarious, provocative, wild.

'WellBless' plays Theatre Works 1-11 December.



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