STICK was written by Carolyn Burns and directed by Martha Goddard, and sees Emma Campbell reprising her role as Louise from the stage show, THE ONE SURE THING. Carolyn graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Master’s in Literature and Modernity in 2009. She also holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) from the University of Sydney, where she is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of English, conducting research into adaptation and twentieth century lyric drama. Carolyn was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when she was 25.
Carolyn Burns on STICK:
Too often people talk about death as if it is something that only happens to other people: people who are old and infirm, or the victims of terrible accidents.
That’s not the way I think of death.
Death rides shotgun in that car that speeds past you on the freeway.
Death waves at us from sunny windows.
He taps us on the shoulder just before the phone rings with bad news.
And he’s got a killer sense of humour.
The day after my twenty-fifth birthday I got very sick. I had terrible abdominal pain. I couldn’t keep food down. It was difficult to stand. I lost ten kilograms in a week. The pain was indescribable. One day it was so bad I decided the only thing I could do to make it stop was jump out the window. But when I tried to move my body was paralysed. I was home alone. All I could do was stare hopelessly out at the perfect blue sky. Eventually I passed out.
I woke up a few hours later and got myself to the hospital. They hooked me up to a drip, pumped me full of water and painkillers and sent me home. A week later I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic illness of the immune system and digestive tract, commonly first diagnosed in people in their teens and twenties.
With STICK what I really aimed to do was write a monologue that revealed something about my experience with chronic illness, but without hollow sentimentality. What struck me when thinking about how to do this in the context of The Voices Project was how much more difficult it would be to adapt to the challenges of chronic illness as a teenager.
Louise is in a situation where she is forced to rely on the care of her parents just when she is trying to establish her own independence, and at the same time, cope with the medical invasion of privacy at the very time of life when privacy becomes most important. But Louise deflects this difficulty with irreverent humour. Louise is a defiant smart-arse, who enjoys deliberately exploiting the discomfort other people feel about her illness.
In Illness as a Metaphor, Susan Sontag describes her own experience as a cancer patient, reflecting on how the negative associations of diseases come to hurt those who suffer from them: “As long as a particular disease is treated as an evil, invincible predator, not just a disease, most people with cancer will indeed be demoralized by learning what disease they have. The solution is hardly to stop telling cancer patients the truth, but to rectify the conception of the disease, to de-mythicize it.” I think this idea also applies to life more generally: fear makes painful situations more difficult.
Being sick is horrible, but being sick doesn’t make me horrible.
Being sick makes me stronger.
Being sick makes me funnier.
It makes me fearless.
The subtext of any meditation on illness and death is survival.
And that is what STICK is about.
For more information on Crohn’s Disease and support, visit: www.crohnsandcolitis.com.au
Read The Original Monologue
Watch an interview with Carolyn, Martha and Emma, below.