Staging Chronic Illness

Not Your Typical “Sick Flick”

Last weekend my company, Reckless Theatrics, premiered my original play titled Fail Risk. Fail Risk is a new play in development exploring the complexities of relationships and chronic illness. Originally part of a longer version, we have taken an isolated scene and reformatted it into a short play of it’s own. In this edition, we follow Peyton and Alex as they try to reintroduce intimacy into their relationship after Peyton has a mini stoke during sex.

I started writing Fail Risk in 2017 while I was going through treatment for my autoimmune disease. I had appointments 5-6 days a week, anywhere from 7am-9pm. The rigorous schedule and never ending stream of dead ends took a huge toll on my mental health so I began writing plays as a way to cope and process what was going on.

One of the biggest inspirations behind this play in particular was the lack of support and understanding I was experiencing at the time. I had heard “you need to get a boyfriend so he can put up with this and I won’t have to” so many times that I decided to make that the focus of the play. I wanted to show why that wasn’t the fail proof plan those around me seemed to think it was.

I came up with a list of some of the worst things that had been said to me about being sick and asked everyone I knew who this would hurt coming from the most. 99% of people said their partner. So I began writing scenes about Peyton and Alex navigating different aspects of life with a chronic illness like applying for disability benefits, dealing with shitty appointments, using mobility aids for the first time, or not being able to afford necessary medications.

Eventually I started tackling disability and sexuality. When I first told people that I wanted to tackle how sex can change after one partner becomes sick or disabled I got a lot of disgusted reactions. So obviously I had to include it.

But I didn’t only want hot and heavy sex scenes for Peyton and Alex. Throughout the entire writing process I’ve tried to capture the reality of the chronic illness experience, and even though it’s rarely talked about, sexual trauma caused by an illness or disability is a very hard reality for so many.

To be clear, these scenes are uncomfortable, but they weren’t just added for shock value. And what makes them uncomfortable depends on the audience’s comfortability with sick/disabled people having sex, which seems to be pretty low considering how many people have told me “sex is a luxury sick people don’t get.”

Over the last 4 years my plans for this play have changed so much. It’s become less about proving that their relationship won’t work, and more about showing the specific issues that come up when someone gets sick and how those can make or break a relationship.

You can watch Fail Risk again this weekend, May 28th and 29th at 8pm EDT. Tickets are available here.

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