'Butterfly Club presents: Intimacy Issues' / Tim Grant
Cover image: Mariah Mwipitayi
In 10 days time, Ivana Brehas and India Alessandra will be opening up their diaries to the world in their new show Intimacy Issues. Organised under the headings of UNCERTAINTY, NEED, and POWER, scraps of the last few years will be recited, interpreted, and made achingly visible. Together, they will be our guides through the confusing and contradictory moments of sexuality, self-esteem, and certainty they are very generously making public. I sat to speak to them about their new show, and on the way got stuck into love languages, Instagram stories, and the mortifying ordeal of being known.
As the opening question which we will not necessarily include: is it significant that both of your names start with “I”?
India: It’s actually a bit of a coincidence, because Ivana’s birthday is a month after mine and we were born in the same year. And we also have quite similar names.
Ivana: It wasn’t intentional at all. But also, Intimacy Issues has two I’s, so that definitely works with it.
What are your intentions for the doing this show?
Ivana: I think for me, it is wanting someone else to hear what we’re saying and think “Oh, I’ve also felt that way!” Because I think the big thing with our diary entries is that – when we were first sharing them with one another – it was pretty nerve-wracking the first time, but now I feel like I can open up to India about anything. And that’s because I’ve read her diary entries and seen that she’s felt the same thing I’ve felt, and she’s had the same experiences as me. So I’m really hoping that we’ll be able to do a bit of that for whoever comes to see [Intimacy Issues]. I’m occasionally terrified that the show is just awfully self-indulgent, and I hope that it’ll actually be helpful to someone else and not just us.
India: Definitely. We have a bit at the start of the show where we talk a bit about why we’re doing it. We wanted to – not justify it, but let people know what they were in for, and part of that is revealing how it all started. Ivana had written a script in our final year at VCA, and had chosen to put journal entries in it. Someone in the class said “That reminds me of something I’d written in my journal!” and that kind of launched the whole project. We’d hang out and share these Intimate passages, and it made me feel so reassured that she often felt the same. I just want someone to come to the show and say “Oh, well that’s not my lived experience but I know that feeling, and that makes me feel less alone about being lonely…” [Laughs]
Was loneliness a big part of the journal entries that you were sharing?
Ivana: There’s such a range of things that we talk about in the journal entries, and we do talk about feeling lonely. But I also think there is also definitely the sense that the person writing thinks “I’m the only person who feels this way” or “I will never be loved”, which everyone occasionally thinks. Which is obviously not true.
As someone who has never kept a diary willingly, did it feel natural and useful for you?
India: I never kept a journal through high school, which I greatly regret. When I moved to Melbourne at 18 I started doing it, and I would never write anything interesting. I’d just be like “I’m really tired”, for like pages, and there would be weeks in between [entries]. I’d say “I went to an amazing party!”, and then “I’m so tired this morning” for lines after it. And it’s like, why aren’t I writing about this amazing party I went to? I think it just interesting that when life is interesting and I’m busy I’m not writing it down. But when I have these moments of quiet, or I’m spending more time alone I can go on for pages. And I’ve grown to need to write, now, in order to feel like myself. I need the pages to reflect on what’s going on.
Ivana: I didn’t start until I was 18 either, so I think we are the same person. When I started my first journal, it was more of a visual journal – I wouldn’t write about what was going on, I would just draw what had happened in the day, which I love looking back over. I find it really useful, and I have a rule now that I have to write the things that really scare me to even admit to myself. When I sit down to it I have to force myself, and after it’s on the page you can look at it sort of outside yourself. I think it really helps me work through things, or even just identify patterns. I can look back and think “I was doing that stupid shit a year ago, so I won’t repeat it now”.
How did Intimacy Issues come about?
Ivana: Lots of people have asked how it started, and I don’t remember. It wasn’t like we sat down thinking “Let’s write a play”; it was initially just us comparing notes and sending photos of entries over messenger. And at a certain point I think we realised we had a lot of good stuff.
India: I can’t remember if we saw it before we thought of the name but – Ivana had drawn this text image of [the phrase] “Intimacy Issues” in bubble writing, and I thought “Oh my God!” [Laughs] “That’s me!” I think it was the idea behind what I was saying in my journal. I never said the words; it was only when I shared these experiences with Ivana that we thought to call [the show] that. But apart from her script, there was never a particular moment where we thought to do a show like this.
What does Intimacy Issues mean for the show?
Ivana: I’m, like, passionate about this, because India notoriously does a lot of polls in Instagram stories. She did one while we were working on this play that just asked “Do you have intimacy issues? Yes/No”, and I think 44% said “No”.
Ivana: Which we both think is total bullshit.
Yeah, they’re lying.
Ivana: And I think that some people have this idea that “intimacy issues” means not liking being touched, or having sex. But it’s so much more than that, like someone could struggle with emotional intimacy. You could have intimacy issues even if you have a really active love life. So I think that the name is about all the different ways that people struggle with intimacy, women especially. Also, the fact that a diary is an intimate thing, and it’s an intimate act to share it with people.
India: I did another Instagram poll where I asked “Can you be intimate with friends?” and a lot of people said “No”. And I was shook, because I am so insanely intimate with friends. That’s why I don’t need to pursue these romantic avenues, because I’m confiding in my friends! It’s a close, intimate friendship that I appreciate. It’s just fascinating how, if I do poll asking, like, “Touch vs Speak?” the people following me will answer the opposite of what I’d expect. I think [Intimacy Issues] works because it really resonates, and gets people’s attention. I remember – someone at a bar asked me what the name of my show was, and I said “Intimacy Issues”. And he just said; “Oh, well, self-explanatory”, and walked off!
I can’t believe he said that.
India: It was so funny. I just sort of called out “Butterfly Club! Come see it!” after him.
Could you describe the form of the show, and the parts interact with one another?
Ivana: We’re just calling experimental because we’re keeping it “loose” in that it’s not really narrative, or plot driven. We’ve organised the show into three thematic sections. It starts with “UNCERTAINTY”, then transitions into “NEED”, and finishes with “POWER”. We found it was a useful way to organise what we found were three big themes in our diary entries. But then within that we’ve got little, vignette-like segments, which I think really fits the diary format.
Is there a linear timeline to the show?
Ok, good to know.
India: Yeah, that’s a really good point actually. Everything is sort of mixed in together. And it’s quite a different experience reading through the acts in rehearsal as opposed to reading chronologically through the journals. We made the segments within the acts more theatrical, and a less literal take on the experiences that full under the umbrella of each theme. There are a few, as well, that don’t fit neatly under UNCERTAINTY, NEED, and POWER.
What do those big thematic words mean for you?
Ivana: For UNCERTAINTY, I noticed that my entries were full of question marks, and questions that I wasn’t answering. In Intimacy Issues, we both use our diaries to figure things out that we’re feeling. There’s so many ways that we feel uncertain about, like; our sexuality and queer stuff; and so much uncertainty around what I want; and whether I want a relationship; and whether I am interested in this person; and if I’m using them to distract myself. It’s that stage of not really knowing your feelings.
NEED is the embarrassing part of the diary that’s just like “I want someone to love me!” And it’s the experience of feeling ashamed to express any kind of need. I’ve had experiences with an eating disorder, and in doing the show I found these bigger connections between women (and me) being ashamed to need anything – need food, need love, need respect, whatever – and what is on the page.
And POWER is interesting for me because I don’t think it’s necessarily about being empowered. In the show, it’s about us being obsessed with power dynamics and – especially with modern relationships – the power games like texting back, or not texting back. So that, I think, is the section where we look at all our weird neuroses about power. Like, “If I’m vulnerable will I lose my power?”
India: Definitely. I think for me the three words are the cycle I often found myself in. Sort of: I NEED something from this person, and the question of POWER and whether I feel empowered or not comes into it. And I get a break from it, and overanalyse it, and in the UNCERTAINTY it sort of leads me back to NEED again. But I think Ivana put it perfectly.
Ivana: It’s ‘cause I talked a lot.
Looking through the key themes of the show in its bio, I thought the one that stuck out from the rest was “social media”. What does it mean to you in the context of these intimacy issues?
India: I think social media has given me a warped sense of how much everyone else is sharing. When I go online, I forget that were obviously only showing a highlight reel. So in the show, I talk about using Tinder and Instagram, all the time yearning to find that true connection. Being so connected means that it’s really easy to feel UNCERTAIN and unsure of how much you should be communicating and sharing with someone. It’s quite a strange medium.
Ivana: I definitely think that, even if we think we’re oversharing online, we won’t necessarily come away from it with the feeling that we have any intimate connections. I don’t think either of us think the internet is all bad; I think we’ve had a lot of good experiences through it and whatever. But I think it can be an obstacle to real intimacy, or a substitute for it.
Were there any commonalities in your experiences you were surprised by?
Ivana: I’m not sure if I wanna say it in an interview. Was there anything you were surprised by?
India: I mean, I don’t know if you want me to say it.
I’m happy to cut anything that you’re not comfortable with. We can just say at the end, “That’s not being included.”
India: It was interesting that we both wrote about someone very differently. That was hilarious.
Ivana: We hadn’t initially realised that certain journal entries were about the same person.
India: I sent a very stressed text. I thought maybe the show was off.
Ivana: I think as we’ve worked on the show, we’ve confessed things to each other that we wouldn’t have before. Things that we wouldn’t have known which weren’t necessarily surprising, but interesting.
India: We were continuously realising what was similar between our experiences. Also, I talk a bit about my sexuality, which I’ve never really discussed.
Ivana: I think what’s really interesting is that, in both of our diaries, we spend a lot of time talking about love and relationships and sex. You can put whatever you want in your diary – but, like, so much of both of our diaries are devoted to that. Your diary is the place that you’re writing things that you might not be talking to anyone about. So I think it was interesting that, oh, we both don’t feel that comfortable talking about our feelings and our sexualities.
How well do you relate to the women who wrote the early entries in your journals?
Ivana: There are definitely some things where I don’t feel that way at all anymore. That’s why it’s interesting to be reading those entries out because people might think “That’s how she feels right now”, and I don’t. I definitely think I’ve grown; I hope I’ve grown. I feel like more of an unconcerned person now, like my life feels bigger or my perspective is less myopic. I hope that continues. I hope, in three years, I look back at 21 year old me and be like “Pfft, what was her deal?” But when I look back on the pre-diary Tumblr diary entries from when I was a teenager, I have a lot of respect for her. Even though I can see how much I’ve changed, she was pretty cool and I want make her proud.
India: I agree. I do still see a lot of me in those first entries, but it’s been quite enlightening to see how much I have grown. And reassuring because, when I first started writing, there were a lot of things I was quite insecure about that I wouldn’t think about now. It’s interesting to think about what was really rocking my world when I was 18, and how it’s now very different. I had really big focus on men back then, and wondering about “How does he feel?” Now it’s more about what I think. “Maybe it’s not me” has a nice ring to it. I do really like reading things back and thinking; “That was really good. Good observation.”
In terms of sexuality and gender, how is queerness working its way into the show? Like, what are we doing?
Ivana: What are we doing! [Laughs] This is something that I’m very conscious of; I have this queer imposter syndrome where I’m just so worried if it’s queer enough. Like, you mention that a lot of your diary entries were about men. Mine too. And we’ve talked about this – it’s just because those relationships are more troublesome. I’m not journaling about stuff with women because I feel more comfortable. So, because of that, there is more talking about men which makes me nervous that the show isn’t queer. But I think that it is.
And I think it’s really useful that we address that self-doubt in the play. It fits into that idea of compulsory heterosexuality, where you just feel like “Maybe I’m not really queer, or maybe my attraction to men is actually fake.” It’s all a big UNCERTAINTY mood. I don’t think my relationships with women make up as much of the content of the play, but I’m hoping that queer people still feel like they can relate to it.
India: For me, I talk about being unsure a bit. And how, since I’ve always been interested in men, I thought that maybe that’s the only thing. But also I love hanging out with women. But do I just love hanging out with women because it’s just enjoyable? But I’m also not too worried, because I think queer audiences are more receptive. Like, they wanna chat. There’s more room for discussion with sexuality, and it doesn’t have to be crystal clear.
Ivana: Something else that I think is really interesting with queer stuff and Intimacy Issues is how the closet just fucks people up, in terms of their ability to be intimate with someone. If I’m 21 now and came out when I was 16, then that’s only been, like, four years actually acknowledging my desires. So how am I supposed to feel comfortable exploring them? I feel like a lot of queer people are late bloomers because they don’t get the opportunity to have all the weird high school fuck ups and relationships and everything. So, being queer makes you more like to have intimacy issues.
So it’s not a surprise that we’re characterising the concept of NEED as something embarrassing.
Is there anyone that we’re scared of seeing this performance?
India: I just shared my actor headshot onto my own Instagram, and my mum commented “Is there any joy in this show?” [Laughs] Because in all the photos we’d stylised it to look like we’d been crying. I sent my mum a very passive aggressive text saying “Just support me, don’t criticise…” But I’m not super worried about anyone seeing it. I do want people to be able to relate to it, but I wouldn’t want anyone to project themselves onto it. I’m not super nervous about it. I think my parents will be supportive.
Ivana: It’s a weird thing where the people I work for could come to a show where I talk about sex a lot. I mean, they can! But I’m not too worried anymore, I’ve gotten used to it. I told my parents not to come, but that’s good! That’s healthy boundary setting. So because of that, I think I feel fine.
Are there any final statements you hope people take away from Intimacy Issues?
India: We don’t have, like, an agenda. We’re not saying “Be on your own!” or anything, because a lot of the statements contradict one another. It swings from “I don’t need anyone, I’m amazing!” to “Where is everyone? I’m about to fall to pieces.” It’s more that feeling of – we have intimacy issues, you probably do too. I hope it opens everyone else up. You’re alone, but you’re not lonely.
Intimacy Issues will open on the 12th of August and run until the 17th.
For more details, see: https://thebutterflyclub.com/show/intimacy-issues
Tickets can be bought at Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/Fe/intimacy-issues-tickets-62900002601
The social media extensions of the show can be found on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook: