State of Mind (Mental Health)

Josh Belperio’s wall of existential despair

Josh Belperio’s sophomore Fringe show, 30,000 Notes, is an exploration of how tightly humanity clings to its strongest attachments: the bonds we form with the people that we love, and the perception that we have of our own worth. It is also a fearless expose of the trauma and existential despair that is unleashed when we lose our grip.

Josh Belperio | photo by Wilson & Lewis Photography

Classical composer and cabaret performer Josh Belperio’s 30,000 Notes is a daring amalgam of theatre and choral music. Josh will walk his audience through a 13-metre wall of Post-It notes, sheet music and scribbled ramblings that he has amassed since early adolescence; a snow storm of thoughts, ranging from the mundane, such as daily to-do lists, to the peculiar, such as a record of the date and time of his first 27 sexual encounters with his partner, Matthew.

A discussion of these seemingly random and disorderly notes will provide the audience with a window into Josh’s mind as a composer before they listen to binaural recordings of his lush and poignant choral works through headphones. The show’s design serves two purposes. The first, Josh says, is an attempt to foster a broader understanding of his work as a classical composer.

“Classical music is so underappreciated and yet I love it, so what am I going to do? Be one of those people that has 100 people at his concerts and spends six months working on a new piece of music for an orchestra and doesn’t get paid for the commission?”

“I need to find ways to help people to connect with this music. I don’t know whether this show will work. I don’t know if this is going to help people connect with it, I don’t know if people will go “no I don’t want to hear what this means to you, I don’t want you to tell me what to feel, I want to feel my own thing.”

“I just want the song to have a meaning. In classical music, most people will not ascribe any meaning to it because the stylistic language is so far removed from the stylistic language to which they are used to.”

While the first purpose of the show is personal and artistic, the second is political; it aims to raise awareness of the prejudices that inspired this cacophony of notes, this dearth of introspection, as Josh explains.

“It started with sexuality and it just spread. The life experience that I’ve had with an Italian Catholic family who attended an elite private school is so specific and it’s very sheltered and the diversity of lived experiences out there and beliefs of reality out there are so vast that you don’t have to hold onto every belief that you are taught. That’s what this journey here on this part of a note wall is about.”

Like Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, 30,000 Notes is a fearless and unflinching account of the existential despair experienced by queer people who have been raised with homophobia ingrained within them. The jarring juxtaposition between Josh’s Catholic upbringing and his sexual identity triggered years of bitter internal turmoil, as he explains.

“If you are in any way not part of the cookie cutter mould of the person who fits perfectly within everything that their social environment has set up for them, then you need to go through a large process of introspection, and that’s what coming out is.”

“There’s a certain point where you can’t continue the behaviours that you had been doing because they are so toxic that if you are going to continue doing them, then you are going to end up dead very soon and that’s what I experienced, that’s what motivated me to have to come out because if I was going to continue living with that much guilt and shame and repression in me, it would have killed me.”

Josh’s notes are the lava from a volcanic eruption, a therapeutic and life-preserving purge. 30,000 Notes isn’t simply a coming out tale, though. At the time that he was grappling with his sexual awakening, Josh’s beloved Nonna was trapped in the merciless and debilitating clutches of motor neurone disease. The two events life changing events became entwined.

Josh never came out to Nonna; he isn’t quite sure how the devout Catholic and Italian migrant would have coped with it. His grief over her passing, then, is coloured by an aching uncertainty over whether her love for him was truly unconditional.

He jokes, though, that if she met his partner, Under the Microscope’s Matthew Briggs, who is the Executive Producer and Director of the show, she would have eventually accepted it.

“It would have taken her years, but if she had met Matt and saw how much he eats at Sunday lunches, she would have come around. Look at how much he mangia (Italian for eat), he loves my food.”

Nonna’s cultural identity was forged in Italy and was calcified by her migration to Australia. She clasped tightly to the heritage of her homeland, to her sense of who she was and what she valued, by diligently recording her life through home videos and jotted recipes, with the former to be projected during 30,000 Notes.

30,000 Notes is a show about the stories that we tell ourselves, the stories that we are born with and collect along the way, and the upheaval that occurs when we are no longer convinced of the truth of these internal narratives; it is a show about the struggle to craft a new and enduring inner monologue that truly reflects who we are or want to be, not the person we were told we should be. It is a show about all of us, no matter who we think we are.

30,000 Notes plays the Adelaide Fringe from the 19th of February until the 16th of March at 31-33 North Street Adelaide.

This article was first published in The Serenade Files Magazine Issue 1 (January – March 2019). Visit the Members Magazine page to read more features like this.

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