Ladylike Theatre Collective

Empathy Quest

Empathy Quest


by ladylike theatre collective


Our most ambitious and long term piece, Empathy Quest is site specific, interactive, and epic. 


Mental illness is an issue and concern that is close to both of our hearts. While there is often no cure, we know that early intervention, treatment, and support, in conjunction with representation, conversation, and destigmatisation, are imperative to recovery. Achieving this is impossible if we continue to have closed conversations about mental illness. We also know that this stigma means it's difficult to speak about the everyday experience of those living with illness and often it is challenging and painful to talk about, even to those who’ve experienced similar disorders to our own. This can put a wall up for those who need support or for loved ones who are struggling to understand. This is where we come in as storytellers. We want to be able to help this, open up a dialogue, increase understanding and offer a theatrical experience that asks questions and shifts perceptions.

We believe this content matches an interactive form perfectly. We want to put the audience in the driver's seat. Invite them to experience something new, challenge them, engage with them and increase their capacity for empathy and understanding, whether they have experiences with mental illness or not.

We believe theatre should ask questions and spark conversations and this is what we want to do with this project. This play is contemporary and speaks to ongoing discourses within Australia. Australians are now more medicated than we've ever been and the largest users of antidepressants are people under thirty. We’re not making a show to teach neurotypical people what mental illness is. This is a story that will speak openly and unashamedly to the multitudinous variations within psychological deviations.

This will be an exploration of mental illness through interactive theatre. We are looking at exploring the narrative (the ups and downs) of living with mental illness, and the variants between the same illnesses within different individuals. The idea is a choose-your-own-adventure style piece with one audience member and one performer. The performer will use the monologue of the character living with a specific illness and then give their options over to the audience participant. Over time these options become limited as we delve deeper and deeper into the lived experience of people with mental illnesses. We want to explore but are not limited to depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Here is a simple example with a common cold:

Performer: You wake up, you feel nauseous, sweaty, uncomfortable.

Do you?

A) Go back to sleep, call in sick to work.

B) Get up, throw up, keep going, only to be sent home.

C) Pretend that everything is okay, stay at work and eventually infect everyone in the office.

The participant is presented with a choice that affects the rest of their story. If we replace ‘common cold’ with ‘depression’ we are now in a position to unlock a myriad of lived experiences unfamiliar to our audience. Throughout the course of the play the participant’s options become limited, slowly taken away from them. For example:

Performer: for the 111th day in a row, you wake up with a cold. Today you are so sick that moving hurts, breathing hurts, taking hurts. So full of pain do you:

A) Call an ambulance *You can’t it hurts too much.

B) Go to work * You can’t it hurts too much.

C) Stay in bed

The idea around this is to reduce the uneducated responses to someone with depression being responded with “you have to be positive, get some exercise, you’ll feel better” or “eat something you won’t get fat” to someone with anorexia etc. By physically taking away the options the audience is catapulted into a place of understanding and compassion.