The truth at the bottom of the bottle
Thirst is the story of Stan Adams, as told by Deebee Bishop. He was one of six housemates who lived with Stan in a broken-down share house when he’d walked away from his life to live rough. Decades later, Deebee tells the story.
What was it about your experience living with an older man with a serious addiction issue that impacted so greatly on you and your friends?
We were all very young 19 to 21 year olds. Obviously obsessed with our own lives.
This old fellow, Stan Adams, just came to visit for a weekend. But his personality, his stories, his gentle manner were intoxicating. He had us all laughing. He was so interesting to be around that he stayed.
Were you aware at the time of how sad the situation was?
Yes, we could see that he was suffering in many ways. He was always bright and funny, even when he was very sick. I had an uncle who was an alcoholic when I was a little boy. I could see similarities in their nature.
Why did you let him stay? Many wouldn’t have…
My good friend Dom Grenot, nicknamed Thrasher (who is the producer of Thirst and was one of the housemates) was a youth worker at 19 years of age. Thrasher would arrive back at the Manor most Friday nights with what we used to call ‘strays’. That’s how this old bloke came to stay with us. Just a weekend respite, like everyone else who came.
It was no big deal to us. We were not saints, we just got on with it.
What did you learn in particular from the situation?
I had just finished an apprenticeship as a ships carpenter. I started to teach myself how to play the guitar. I was busking as a way to earn money. I had lots of time on my hands. The old bloke, who we called Wingy, and I spent a heck of a lot of time together. When I look back at those days I realised he taught me how to see life from other people’s points of view. Wingy had a big life, he had this chronic addiction, but no matter how bad he felt, he seemed to always put other people first. Laughter was a very important part of his life.
What made you decide to turn your personal experience into a show?
Many things fell into place at once. I am a songwriter, I fell in love with songwriting many years ago. I am a performer as well, but it’s always the writing that makes me feel complete, and dare I say happy!
I am older now than Wingy was at that time. It seemed the natural thing to do… write it all down.
In the staging of Thirst how do you tell all the stories?
Thirst is told by stories, good old fashioned yarns. Also by song. When I was 19 teaching myself how to play guitar, sitting in the sunshine with an enormous amount of time on my hands, I would write poems. [About] anything that interested me. A lot of one-liners that Wingy used to use. He was one of those old blokes who spoke in riddle and funny one-liners. I wrote it all down in poems or short stories. I used to post them all to my dear old mum. She died in 2007. [When] cleaning her home after she passed I retrieved a big folder with all those poems and stories. This was 27 years later. I had forgotten all about them. She had kept them all, bless her. It’s a gem finding all of this material.
What should audiences expect?
I believe the greatest way to anyone’s heart is via music and humour. I also believe in a call to action. It’s all very fine to tell the story about homelessness and mental illness but what can we all do about it? Believe it… the answer is very simple. Come to the show; I’ll do my very best to offer a couple of solutions.
Finally, I have performed the show in smaller venues for quite a long while [but] I am always amazed; everyone has a story to tell about alcohol issues.
Drill Hall Theatre in Mullumbimby on Saturday 17 April at 6pm and Sunday 18 April at 3pm. Tickets $20 at drillhalltheatre.org.au