Melbourne-based writer and performer Telia Nevile combines storytelling, poetry, ridiculous interpretive dance and punk cabaret to create shows that will make you laugh, let you cry and remind you that you’re not alone.
They range from an epic poem about a blood-soaked beauty pageant, to an uncomfortably honest exploration of the expectations and realities of growing up. Her most recent show, Little Monster – a piece about inner demons written in the style of Dr Suess – won Best Work in Festival at the 2021 Melbourne Fringe, and previous pieces have won awards, award nominations and critical acclaim in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
There is a lot that keeps Telia Nevile up at night. So much so that she decided to make a new Melbourne Fringe Festival show about it. In Insomniac Mixtape, Nevile takes a deep dive into the subconscious, where she talks and sings through the real and imagined things that go through her - and your - mind in the middle of the night.
"My brain has a love of chasing its tail, and periodically lighting its hair on fire while it does this," she explains. "Combine that inclination with being a very light sleeper and the result is long periods of staring at the ceiling when I want to be sleeping. The things that wake me up in the middle of the night vary wildly, but are usually driven by anxiety, stress, or an inability to stop turning a problem over. Then again, sometimes it’s the snoring beside me. Occasionally it's a loud car or our downstairs neighbours. It’s a lucky dip of sleepless treats!"
"I made a show about not sleeping because it’s such a lonely and surreal experience. Sometimes you dip between awake and asleep and dreams and reality start to blur. Or your sense of time disappears. Sometimes I’m trying to fix a computer issue that doesn’t exist and it takes way longer than it should to convince my brain that there’s no computer and that I’m in bed, so there’s nothing to fix. You know, the usual," she tells me.
Nevile's previous works have all dealt with some form of anxiety or angst: our prioritising beauty over intelligence, failure and the gnawing voices in our head, but this all ends up being quite a release for her, and an enjoyable, relatable experience for her audience. "I often make shows about things I’m having trouble explaining or understanding, and it becomes cathartic when audiences start to connect to it. Life is full of things that you feel like you’re tackling by yourself, but you’re not, because a lot of us are going through that same thing, we just don’t talk about it very often," she says. "There’s a throughline of anxiety and discomfort in a lot of my work because I am a worrier by both nature and nurture, and, as they say, you should write about what you know."
"I also believe that by being open and vulnerable about my own experiences and thoughts, people are offered the opportunity to be vulnerable about their own. After this, connection flows. My sense of humour is naturally pretty dark and I use it to pull me out of my own troubling spaces. Nothing pierces impenetrable funks like a good laugh, and theatre and cabaret and comedy all provide this wonderful occasion to share truth and come together," she continues.
Nevile has an incredible knack with her spoken words performances captivating, engaging and enlightening her audience to the world around them and showing people the power and impact that words can have. "Words are the greatest. Beautiful words, archaic words, words that are fun to say. Writing entices me with its rhythms and tones and the way it just rubs words all over itself for the sheer pleasure of it. I love it for its wheeling acrobatics and the way it savours small moments and quiet feelings or ploughs straight through the elephant in the room."
A staple of her shows are creative and imaginative original catchy songs, and those attending Insomniac Mixtape will not be disappointed with what Nevile has planned. "My musician, James Dowell, has absolutely outdone himself, and I’m spoilt for choice for a favourite, but it includes a punk number about suddenly realising you’re old, a Ladytron-adjacent electro piece about longing for sleep, a goth track about wanting to smother the snorer beside you, and a Euro-techno masterpiece called ‘Bloodshot’. I can’t wait to share them with everyone because they are so frackin’ awesome."
FRINGE FIVE FAST ONES
1) My favourite meal is the type where you order lots of dishes between a group and you all get to try a little bit of everything. And there should be at least one dish that centres around potato. 2) A TV show I would like to be cast in is the first few seasons of Community or The West Wing. The writing for both of them was so incredibly good, and it must be a joy to get your pages and realise you get to deliver those lines. 3) A little known skill I have is packing. We moved a lot when I was a kid and my mother was the Tetris master of packing boxes. I inherited some of that. 4) My proudest professional moment is every time someone comes up to me out of the blue and talks to me about one of my shows. The magic of theatre is sharing our humanity, and having people share what they thought or felt after seeing a show is incredible. 5) Happiness is a sunny patch with a good book, a big coffee, and a dog.
Venue: Trades Hall, Cnr Lygon & Victoria Sts, Carlton Season: 11 - 22 October | Wed - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 6:30pm Duration: 60 minutes Tickets: $30 Full | $25 Concession | $22.50 Hump Day Discount (Wednesday) Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival Parts by Myron My.