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Issue #1826      June 13, 2018

Culture & Life

Suicide a revealing theme for playwright

When one of the cousins in her family committed suicide, as the oldest of her generation, Larrakia woman Jada Alberts felt a sense of responsibility. She wanted to help her family by finding a way to talk about what had happened and allow everyone to deal with the trauma and help each other.

Playwright and actor, Jada Alberts.

Ms Alberts, a writer, director and actor, used the power of words to create the play Brothers Wreck about Ruben, a young man who discovers the body of his cousin and struggles to deal with it and talk about his grief. Now in its second run, the award winning play will be performed on the stage in Melbourne and Adelaide during June and July.

“Within our family, there’s been a lot of mental health issues – I suffered depression myself,” Ms Alberts said. “It’s not the first time there’s been a suicide in my family and I remember when I was 14 a friend told me she told me she was going to do it – and then she was gone.

“No-one wanted to talk to me about it, even though we all knew she was suffering from a trauma that kept her depressed.”

It can be confronting when writing about an issue like suicide, but Ms Alberts said she doesn’t get scared easily and leans “into emotional situations rather than lean out”.

“The world around teaches us to shut down and man up – you’ll be right,” she said. “Our society has this thing about not talking about it – it’s a particularly Western way of dealing with things.

“Naturally, I’m interested in dark material and how much it can teach us. I really wanted to know what my cousins went through that morning when they found their loved one. I wanted other people to know as well – to look and not pretend.”

Now in rehearsals for the play, Ms Alberts said it was difficult to ask actors to put themselves in the head space needed to act out the story.

“But this is a hopeful story, so we start somewhere dark and move through that as a group and find a way to talk about trauma in a helpful, productive way for each other,” she said.

Brothers Wreck was first performed in 2014 and nominated for numerous awards.

For its upcoming second season, Ms Alberts said they are changing it and stretching out the internal world and psychology of the characters.

“We’ve had positive feedback from school students who were asked about the show and its impact,” she said. “They got so much from the show, like remembering the people in our lives we take for granted sometimes and we shut down to self-preserve, but it’s those people who can help us to get through things.”

Ms Alberts said she’s always been interested in theatre and acting and originally studied performing arts at her artist mother’s suggestion – and fell in love with it.

She crossed over into television in the series Cleverman, scoring an acting role as Nerida – wife of bad guy Waruu. She then became the associate script producer on the show’s second series and co-wrote two episodes.

“It’s one of the greatest experiences I’ve had,” Ms Alberts said. “I’ve continued to write for TV and I’m working on a new play for the theatre.”

Ms Alberts said telling stories is her great passion and, while in her early days as an actor, she was “always typecast in an Indigenous role”, she now enjoys being able to control how stories are told.

“Indigenous writers and directors have more opportunities to saturate that space now and say, ‘Hey, our lives are not dissimilar to yours – even though we all come from different places.’

“For young blackfellas watching, it’s important to see themselves on screen. It’s a form of trauma to not see yourself reflected in the world around you. Being invisible is something blackfellas had to put up with for so long and it’s starting to change.

“The work I do is about telling black stories and diversifying the stories we do tell – and letting black bodies fill that space and take it back into our power.”

Brothers Wreck will be performed at Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne from June 8-23 and in Adelaide from June 27-July 14.

For more information, visit

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact:

Lifeline 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

Kids Helpline (aged 5-25) 1800 55 1800 78

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support services can be found at: or

Koori Mail

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