Timing is everything in life, and for Playwright Joshua Iosefo, the timing is right to launch his play Odd Daphne, which challenges traditional Pacific attitudes towards mental wellness.
Joshua’s decision to write this script focused largely on mental wellness came during a period he felt good creatively, as well as at a time when his family were ready for him to create this type of work, he says.
“It also came at a time when our community needs to hear this message,” Joshua adds.
“Mental wellness is a topic I am very passionate about and strongly believe is a topic all people should be engaged in.
“Mental health and physical health are one of the same and we should prioritise our mental wellness just as much as we prioritise our physical wellness.”
Odd Daphne is an original community stage play supported by the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand’s Like Minds, Like Mine and the Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board.
It gives insight into depression within a contemporary Pacific context and explores alofa and its varying cultural and generational attitudes.
The Auckland-born Samoan-Niuean was raised in South Auckland, and says home for him is wherever his grandparents are.
Joshua, who has completed his undergraduate and post graduate studies in Communications at Auckland University of Technology, says the story for Odd Daphne is derived from his and his family’s experiences with mental illness.
The plot sees a weaboo baker, a dysfunctional Pacific family, a gay rugby player and a k-pop dance group all come together to form the perfect recipe for a beautiful disaster that explores love, language and loss, he says.
“What makes this creative process and this play unique is my family are in the cast - my mother and father play the parents in the story and we are practitioners of what we call ‘Whanau Theatre’.
“The whole inspiration behind this form of storytelling is about families healing families.
“We as a family have been through an extreme rollercoaster ride with mental wellness and have healed throughout the last few years.
“As a family who has triumphed through their trauma, I wanted to allow other families to hopefully engage in a similar healing process.”
Joshua and his family are keen for other families to start openly talking about mental wellness within their homes and for people to see vulnerability as a form of strength.
“The impact we are working towards is the conversation audiences have in the car on their way home after watching our show.”
Looking ahead, Joshua wants to further explore Whanau Theatre as a practice and he is intending to start his Masters of Philosophy, looking at Healing families through the art of theatre and critical autoethnography.
He does believe, however, Odd Daphne will make waves in the community and he is open and ready for it to continue after its initial season.