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'The Infirmary' is an immersive live art experience placing you within the clutches of death... literally

“Theatre offers this amazing opportunity for you to rehearse things. You could go into a death-like or near-death experience in a light way without it being final.”

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An intimate performance, ‘The Infirmary’ is a truly poetic live art experience where ten audience members enter a hospital triage. They are interviewed by the artists, are then taken into a hospital ward and an ICU, and are forced to contemplate the essence of mortality and what comes next.

“The experience is predominantly an audio experience, but your body is on a bed, tended to,” says event creator & artistic director, Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy. “The topic is mortality, and it’s an opportunity to have some provocation put to you in a context where you can think about it.”

Awkward may be the operative word here; even before talking with Kokkinos-Kennedy, learning about ‘The Infirmary’ and it’s sensually immersive and intimate nature gives you a feeling like something is crawling on your skin. Laughing gently, Kokkinos-Kennedy says, “I think it really depends on your position on death: some people are very afraid. Even though I make a lot of weird work, some of my friends and colleagues are scared and anxious. If [death] makes you feel anxious then you probably shouldn’t come, but if you’re curious, then come.”

Kokkinos-Kennedy reassures that there’s beauty to be to be found in the installation, that you’re not dead, and that you may in fact feel more alive.

“The whole point of a work like this is that it’s a Memento Mori – we don’t have that in our culture anymore. It’s like the skull on the desk in the Renaissance, when people would look at this skull and consider, ‘One day I will not be here'.

“Of course Shakespeare is full of this, all great poetry and all great art is full of this. Theatre and plays – we’re often dealing with extremities anyway, grief, loss, war, love won, love lost. No drama is about shopping or cleaning the house. I think there is something in us as humans that wants to approach things that are taboo or scary.”

Kokkinos-Kennedy feels society is beginning to mature by returning to many questions surrounding death. She points out the recent ‘Deathfest’ exhibited at Brisbane’s Metro Arts Centre, the festivals around death in Europe, as well as the famous Dia de Muertos in Mexico – and legislation passed in Victoria about euthanasia and right to life. Indeed, our cultural exploration of death is starting to look more like an embracement of the fact that death is a part of life.

“What’s so interesting, too, is the thought of death as like a prick on the figure, a little something reminding you not to be complacent,” says Kokkinos-Kennedy. “We think that because we’re young or just because we’re healthy that death can’t come, but that’s complete rubbish – death can come any time.”

Kokkinos-Kennedy speaks with a great deal of confidence and authority on such an intense and sometimes fearful topic. Her own brush with death, a life-threatening illness when she was 30 years old, sparked Kokkinos-Kennedy’s interest and determination to change her outlook about death. “I felt death’s shadow over me and it was completely horrifying. [It was] very traumatic actually – but I survived.

“It changed me. It made me realise I needed to get on with living and not be afraid, to do what I wanted in life and not want people’s approval. It also made me realise; be with the people you want to be with, and if things and people don’t serve you, move on. Let them go.

“It was a dividing line in a way between the life I’d led up to that time and the life I subsequently lived.”

One of the things Kokkinos-Kennedy thought about when she was designing The Infirmary was how sad it is to die without the chance to contemplate their mortality. “I thought, theatre offers this amazing opportunity for you to rehearse things. The idea that you could go into a death-like or near-death experience in a light way, and taste that experience without it being on top of you, without it being final; I found that really interesting.

“This idea of rehearsing one’s last moments or thinking about what really matters before it’s too late, I think that’s always interested me as a theatre-maker.

“The process of thinking about death throws life into stark belief – you realise, ‘My time is so unknown'.”

The Infirmary is on at North Melbourne Town Hall's Arts House until Sunday 18 November. More info and tickets available at the Arts House website.