A journey of loss, grief, growth and resilience, Joel Bray brings Daddy to Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival. A strong Wiradjuri artist, Bray performs an enthralling story of his cultural and sexual identity and how he navigates the world, connected to those who came before.

Daddy will show at the Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Rehearsal Room. This season will give the show its fourth run.

“It’s been such a blessing to bring it back,” Bray said.

“It is so audience interactive so each show is different depending upon who is in the room with me, how they respond, how they move.

“There’s one scene where I dance through the crowd and last night, everyone was sitting on the floor, and it was the first time where people didn’t move!

“I had to re-choreograph the whole thing on the spot to move my way through this crowd of people – I never ever get bored!”

A raw and intimate look into the deepest parts of his identity, Bray said writing Daddy brought him close to understanding who is and healing trauma.

“When I started it was going to be about a completely different subject and a completely different type of work but as I went through, I started to realise that what was grabbing my attention was this story of trauma that had been passed down from my grandmother to my father, and what I was seeing in my siblings,” Bray said.

“My brother passed away a couple of years ago and it’s been a process in the last two years of all of the siblings getting together and realising we need to care for each other.”

“It’s really going deep into that and deep into my relationship with my father, which has been difficult, and beautiful and powerful. My father is my connection to my culture.”

“And it’s also been about diving down into that and grappling with the sense of loss. The last year and a half of making and performing this work has made me really grieve the loss of culture. “The songs I never learnt, the dances I can never be a part of, the ceremony to become a man that I didn’t get to do – it’s been very deeply emotional.”

From a long line of storytellers, Bray bravely steps into his role.

“As the storyteller, you have to do your job. I can’t get washed away in the river of emotion, my job is to invite the audience into that river and not get lost in it myself.”

“I take the responsibility quite seriously, for us mob, this role of the storyteller is an ancient and important one. I woke up this morning with two messages from some blackfullas that I’ve made connections with, and one of these guys said it really touched him and it felt familiar. I put words to thought he’d had and couldn’t articulate.”

“That makes this a worthwhile thing to do. And it allows whitefullas to hear what it’s like to be on the inside of this.”

Bray hopes that non-Indigenous audience members can gain a deeper understanding whilst watching Daddy. And for mob, he hopes they take comfort in hearing a story that might reflect with their own.

“I think, especially in the inner-city ‘woke’ world, there’s … an academic grasp of the problem whether that be mortality rates or deaths in custody. But, that’s surface level, what I hope [non-Indigenous people] walk out with is an understanding that, this is a lived experience for people and in their families and communities – it’s not just numbers, these are people.

“And for blackfullas, I hope they hear their own, or some version of their own internal voice spoken out loud in public.

“I perform in close proximity to the audience, so I really love when I see a blackfulla in the audience nodding their head and connecting.

“I think like a lot of great blak art, it deals with a lot of hard stuff. But there is that beautiful blackfulla humour there – it’s what we do best!”

Daddy is showing at the State Theatre Rehearsal Room at the Arts Centre Melbourne from February 4-8.

It is recommended for those 18-years and above as it does contain course language and adult themes.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit: artscentremelbourne.com.au/.

By Rachael Knowles