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From Bedwetting to Billy T Nominee: Turning Anxiety Into Comedy

Maria Williams. Photo: Supplied.
Award-winning performer Maria Williams explains how long COVID turned her solo show - Anxiety...The Musical - into a duet and the importance of being able to laugh at yourself.

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You can’t miss Maria Williams.

 

She is often the loudest person in the room, both fashionably and vocally. She’s effortlessly funny and incredibly kind. It’s not often that she’ll speak without singing and she is funny as.

 

Williams -  like a lot of other comedians - also has anxiety and, unlike her debut season in Auckland, she is now bringing chronic fatigue to her Wellington debut of Anxiety… The Musical!!? Which is on at BATS Theatre, 15-19 November.

 

With a lifelong love of musical theatre, Williams is an award-winning comedian, theatre-maker and improviser. She is the two-time winner of NZ International Comedy Festival Newcomer of the year (‘19 - Wellington, ‘21 - Auckland), and a current Billy T James Award nominee. 

 

After pandemic-enforced delays, she’s now finally bringing it to the capital. As someone who was ready to arrive at the theatre early and race in to get front-row seats, I’m stoked that she is able to now perform it.

Williams can always be relied on to be refreshingly honest - and opened up to The Big Idea elow about her show, her success and her battle with Long COVID.

 

About the show 

 

The show is about me being a bedwetter, getting into running and comparing myself to Taylor Swift. I try to work out where it all went wrong and turns out, it was at birth.

 

It was a solo show I made for the Comedy Fest 2021 and it was me telling stories from my life that are related to anxiety from birth up until now. There was a little bit of music, a little bit of dance. It was largely a storytelling show.

 

The show has developed since I last performed it…It wasn’t meant to! It’s developed because it had to. 

 

I was very excited to dust off the old script and do the laziest second edition of a show that I’ve already done. I’ve never done that before, apart from touring. I was excited for it to be a simple feat.

 

But unfortunately, when I got sick, I got sicker and sicker and it became clear that I couldn’t do the show by myself. And I guess the people pleaser in me didn’t want to just cancel the season. So I was just kinda thinking, what are a few ways that I can do it? Because I’m struggling to walk and exert any energy at the moment because of chronic fatigue. So because of that, I was like, ‘how can I still have energy in the show?’

 

Then I just thought - what if I just get Jake (Brown), who’s the most energetic performer I know. I knew that I could just put on a song and he could do an incredible dance.

 

Now I have my friend to be the physical performer on stage and my emotional support person as well.

 

Maria Williams and Jake Brown get in the mood. Photo: Supplied.

 

Impact of the pandemic

 

COVID. (She then makes a sound that I have absolutely no idea how to write, but I’m sure you can imagine it.)

 

The show was birthed, if you will, in the pandemic. I’ve always had the idea of Anxiety the Musical. For years, I had a picture already of my face edited into the Scream painting looking shocked.

 

I didn’t know what the show was going to be but decided - you know what, I can just talk about me. I made it while I was full-time teaching, I made it quite quickly. 

 

COVID impacted it a lot. It’s not about COVID at all but it was obviously impacted by it, which is anxiety-inducing. 

 

I was meant to bring it to Wellington last October because I was in lockdown in Auckland. That really sucked. That was really hard that lockdown. It actually led me to move back to Wellington inevitably ‘cause I was so frustrated by the whole thing and wanted to escape. 

 

It was hard to see that Wellington was still absolutely fine, BATS was still open, the Improv Fest was still on and I was meant to be involved in that as well… but I couldn’t come… although I ended up making my video for Billy T auditions then - and that worked out well! Made some lemonade!! 

 

Then this year, when it was finally looking like it was going to happen, I got COVID, which became Long COVID and when I signed up for this show I hadn’t realised how much it was going to impact me at that stage.

 

I kind of just expected it to disappear - but the Long COVID became chronic fatigue.

 

What influenced Anxiety - The Musical

 

Maria Williams. Photo: Supplied.

 

Honestly, it came from a place of a few things: desperation and panic. That’s where my art comes from… if you can call it art.

 

Nah, I have two things that influenced the show. Number one - wanting to share these stupid, embarrassing stories that were maybe difficult at the time. But wanting to share them to make other people feel better about themselve and their embarrassing things.

 

And number two - to put it out there that you don’t know what people are going through, so be nice. I mean, I’m making this sound deep, and I don’t think I’ve got anything particularly deep in the show. No capital T traumas. Just some little t traumas. For example, I was a bedwetter for a long time in my life. Just putting things out there and being less ashamed of things and being less ashamed of who you are.

 

I’ve found it difficult living with anxiety and it’s difficult for me now because I think my chronic fatigue is a direct result from being highly anxious forever. I think my body was bound to shut down sooner or later. 

 

I find it helpful to reframe things and see the funny side. Is that healthy? I don’t know but come find out! We’ve got Lorde, we’ve got Stage Challenge, we’ve got cross-country - it’s a millennial, Kiwi kid with anxiety.

 

On making it a two-person show

 

It’s great working with Jake (above). Jake is beautiful, so funny, so talented and he’s so good at improv. He makes me laugh all the time. I also get comedy from music a lot and he does too so when we’re together we do a lot of song parodies. He’s the best. Love him.

He has quite a strange role in the show and I’m not sure if it completely makes sense (laughs). He’s bringing more physical energy in the space as a performer and is helping me as a support person too. I feel like I can bring 50% - which is my 100% at the moment - and he is more than making up the other 50%. 

 

Life as a Billy T nominee

 

It’s been a while - so I honestly forgot about it! It (The Billy T performances) got cancelled so It’s been delayed until next year, I was a bit gutted by that. 

 

After a few stagnant years, this year felt right to me, I was like, ‘2022: this is my year!!!’. It felt like it was going to be a starting point to jump off and I felt ready for that. 

 

2022 has, turns out, not been my year (laughs). 

 

I feel nervous but excited for next year. I don’t know what my future is with chronic fatigue. Next year I want to do another high-energy musical-ish show and I don’t think that it’s in the rules that I can get Jake to help me! Bring on 2023 though, this is our year I reckon! Yours, mine, the readers of this article, Jake’s, all the other awesome Billy T Nominees, Black Ferns, Samoan league team… this is our year!!