You Can’t Hide in the Desert

A trilogy of stunning theatre brought into your home by the magic of Black Box Live. Through tears and laughter, with her trademark blend of poignancy and comedy, Tracy Crisp explores family memory and secrets. Pearls, The Forgettory, I Made an Adult: three beautiful stories together for the first time. Binge them all or savour them one-by-one.

Bringing the trilogy together

Over four years, I have been writing and developing my memoir monologues, bringing a new show to the Adelaide Fringe each year since 2018. This year, in collaboration with Joanne and Tom from Black Box Live, three of the shows are available in a new format, presented as a trilogy, online and on demand.

When I started these monologues with Pearls in 2018, I had an umbrella title, ‘You Can’t Hide in the Desert.’ I said it was a trilogy, partly as a way to force myself to keep writing. I knew that they would all be exploring family memory and identity, and how grief weaves in and out of our lives, but I wasn’t sure how each of the individual pieces would develop. As I was writing, I was aware of some links and references back and forth, but preparing the shows to be shared as one, it has been fascinating to see how they relate to each other in ways I don’t think I was aware of at the time.

In the storytelling culture I grew up in, we learn that stories are linear. Beginning, middle and end. But all stories—even the stories of our lives—circle back on each other. The resonance and meaning of events change as we view them from different times in our lives. When I first staged Pearls, for example, it felt to me that it was primarily about relationships and about living a life that is true to your values. It still is about those things, of course, but through these past few years, other elements of the story have had far greater resonance. There was a profound similarity in the way I felt at the time of Mum’s death and the way I was feeling at the beginning of the pandemic. A sense of disbelief, but at the same time a deep sense of comprehension. Waking every morning thinking, ‘It’s still true.’

To give an idea of the development of the shows, I’ve pasted in the program notes (in order of appearance).

Pearls: Program Notes

Writer and Performer Notes
Tracy Crisp

My dad always said that relationships are like icebergs—outsiders only see the ten percent above the water, and the rest is invisible to us. Nothing has taught me the truth of this as much as the search for my mum’s pearls. When it seemed that my dad had lost my mum’s string of pearls, I was devastated. I had many things to remember her by—dressmaking patterns, Leonard Cohen albums, and even other jewellery—but nothing held the intimacy of the pearls. Over time, the pearls became a lightning rod for the more difficult elements of my grief, particularly as I came to understand the enormity of what she had lost by dying so young. I knew it was irrational, but I saw the loss of the pearls as a betrayal to her memory. When the pearls were finally found, every truth I thought I knew about my parents’ relationship was turned on its head.

Of course, our parents leave us much more than physical artefacts and it is the lessons we learn from them (good and bad) that truly shape us. Most of my mother’s spoken advice was pretty odd and delivered in her desert-dry style, but it all reflected her great intellect and her deep compassion. And her lesson in what it really means to live every day as if it is your last is perhaps the most profound thing I will ever learn.

Pearls marks a significant change in the direction of my work. After publishing two novels, I was intending to write about Mum in a memoir, but the more I wrote the more I realised I was writing a piece for performance rather than publication. I have dabbled in stand-up, but I had never written for theatre and I hadn’t acted since I was Grandpa Joe in Port Pirie Youth Theatre’s production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factor. And it was seven years since I’d done any real stand-up. Through a short course, and some long lunches, Maggie helped me to understand the shift to writing for theatre. And Ross helped me to understand how I might get Pearls to work on stage. He taught me things I didn’t know that I didn’t know. His great love for theatre and his depth of knowledge opened a new world to me.

Director’s Note
Ross Vosvotekas

When Tracy approached me to direct her original solo storytelling show for Fringe 2018, I was instantly intrigued. Her idea was to convert her book into a one-act theatrical piece, which came to be known as Pearls. Pearls is about a woman’s journey through life seeking to understand her experiences and upbringing through remembering her parents. Tracy relives her travels as she searches to discover the pearls (of wisdom) her parents gave her. Mainly imbued by her remarkable mother Vivienne.

It has been an honour to collaborate with Tracy on this project. She has crafted an insightful and poignant theatrical experience. The writing is concise and rhythmic and will have you engaged and entertained throughout. The staging is minimal to focus on the story. This piece shows that theatre is not about big budgets, bright lights or showy sets. It is about story and this story has meaning carrying emotional significance.

Pearls resonates with us because it is primarily about family. Life is a “mismatched mish-mash” of memories we are trying to explain, string together and make true, at least for ourselves. Tracy reminds us that we all dream of a better life and that we all intrinsically yearn for deeper meaning in our lives. Pearls is funny and sad. It will leave you in a melancholic state, seeking to recall the pearls that Tracy has shared. Which particular pearl will you clasp on to?

The Forgettory: Program Notes

Writer and Performer Notes
Tracy Crisp

I’ve always been aware of the mysteries and power of memory. When my parents argued, there was nearly always a point where Dad would say to Mum, ‘Elephant Memory!’ His tone was equal parts awe and dismissal … and my mother’s reply was equal parts gloat and dismissal. The mysteries of memory only grew more fascinating as I got older: why was I able to learn how to say my alphabet backwards in half an hour the night before my matric biology exam, but I still can’t recite my nine times table?

When I began The Forgettory I thought I was writing about the mechanics of how memory works. Drawing on my recently-completed postgraduate studies in psychology, the first piece I wrote was a snappy poem about synapses and dendrites (such wonderful words, they haven’t made it into this script, but they will appear somewhere else I’m sure). But the more I wrote, the more I realised I was writing about how memory works on us … how it shapes our relationships, and how it shapes our understanding of ourselves. So The Forgettory is told in four short parts—Insomnia, Birth, Death, Dementia—each exploring a different time of life and a different family relationship.

The Forgettory builds on the work I began in Pearls at last year’s fringe. Together, they form a significant change in my work which has been focused on publication through novels, short stories and essays. South Australia’s festival culture is not without its issues for our arts community, but at its best the fringe culture encourages us to stretch ourselves and find new ways of creating. For me, this has meant an opportunity to extend my writing beyond written publication to live performance. I dabbled in stand-up many years ago, but going into Pearls I hadn’t acted since I was Grandpa Joe in Port Pirie Youth Theatre’s 1983 production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Through many long lunches, Maggie Wood helped me to understand how to make the shift to writing for performance, while Ross Vosvotekas (Pearls) and Maggie (The Forgettory) have both helped me to understand how I might get my scripts to work on stage. In my creative life, staging these two works has been one of the most deeply satisfying and enriching experiences that I have had.

Director’s Note
Maggie Wood

I was thrilled when Tracy asked me to direct The Forgettory.

I am a big fan of her writing – both her novels and her previous Fringe show, Pearls and her stand-up comedy.

I love the poetic aspect of her writing, and her words have a unique rhythm. This posed a challenge in direction – to optimise the theatrical experience while allowing the natural cadence of the writing and Tracy’s personality to flow through unimpeded.

The paradox of the universal being entirely personal lives strong in this piece. I doubt there will be anyone who sees it who can resist reflecting on their own experiences in similar situations, and this is the real magic of theatre – to reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary and place our compassion and humanity exactly where it should be – at the centre and forefront of our lives.

I Made an Adult: Program Notes

Writer and Performer Notes (updated for 2022)
Tracy Crisp

Strictly speaking, this is the fourth in a quartet, with An Evening with the Vegetarian Librarian being written and performed the year after The Forgettory. I wasn’t sure that the librarian was the right piece to end the trilogy, but having written three pieces, I was intending to start a new series. Then in the strange months of 2020, my youngest child–who was doing year 12–turned 18. I was taken by surprise at how significant this felt as a parent, thes shift from being the parent of children to being the parent of adults. ‘I made an adult,’ I said to Adrian one day when we were talking about what it all meant. This phrase seemed such a good title for a show that I thought I would explore the concept and see what happened. As the story evolved, it became clear that it was not the beginning of a new series, but rather was the final part of the stories I had already written. Like Pearls and The Forgettory this piece is about family memory and identity, about balancing our need for autonomy with our need for relationships. And of course, it is a little bit about my constant preoccupation: grief, the most complex of human experiences.

When I first began this series I had not acted (outside a run as Grandpa Joe in Port Pirie Youth Theatre’s 1983 production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). I am grateful to Ross and Maggie for helping me to understand how I could get the scripts to work on stage.

Maggie and I have worked closely together for many years now. Her creative generosity has been an intangible, but vital ingredient in all of the works. This year, however, I think the show might not have existed without her. She helped me to find the emotional core that brought it all together at a time when I was pretty sure it was time to give up. Having come from the solitary world of novel and essay writing, I am really enjoying the increasingly collaborative nature of our work. It is a fitting way to put the final piece of the trilogy puzzle in place.

Director’s Note
Maggie Wood

Growing a human in your body, giving birth to it and then guiding it to majority as a physically, mentally and spiritually intact person, is pretty huge. It’s one of humanity’s commonest triumphs, and yet we rarely talk about it.

When we began rehearsals for this show I found it intriguing how much I had in common with Tracy’s experience, and then I realised pretty quickly that it wasn’t just me, and that it would be a story that touched the lives of many who would come to see it. With her usual style of insight and humour, I’ve found Tracy has hit the topic’s nail on the head. We might see ourselves as the bosses of our households when it comes to the kids, but we are children ourselves, and part of a never-ending chain of love, risk, success and loss, reaching back to the earliest days of humanity.

We’ve had fun with this one. We’ve now worked together on four of Tracy’s shows, we know how each other works, and we can get straight to business without too much faffing about. Given the Covid situation this is a good thing. The prep time has been quirky, and truncated, but all the more deep for this pandemic Adelaide Fringe. I trust you will enjoy the show and reflect on how we all share the amazement of bringing our children to adulthood.

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