Edition #5: Telling our stories

A woman sits at a table comforting a distressed man in a scene from the theatre performance of 'Three Sides of the Coin'
A woman sits at a table comforting a distressed man in a scene from the theatre performance of 'Three Sides of the Coin'
Ken Wolfe and Anna Bardsley in a scene from 'Three sides of the coin', photo: Irene Metter

Three sides of the coin

The audience is transfixed. The middle-aged man, eyes pressed firmly into binoculars formed from clenched fists, starts to call the race.

‘And they’re off! And it’s a lonely, depressed kid – 15 years old – working in a garage with men three times his age – and his friends, all his friends have gone …’

Now he sits spot-lit on chair, leaning heavily on his knees, head hung low. ‘I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.’

This is part of Max’s story in Three sides of the coin, a theatre project that uses performance to help people who have experienced harm from gambling to heal and recover. In telling their stories, the performers are also having a profound effect on audiences, and getting the wider community talking about gambling.

The power of storytelling

Three sides of the coin grew from a series of storytelling projects run by Link Health and Community.

It started in 2012 when Melbourne writer Arnold Zable held storytelling workshops for people struggling with gambling issues, resulting in the anthology From ruin to recovery. A dramatised version followed at the 2013 Melbourne Writers Festival, performed by the writers and directed by Catherine Simmonds. A year later a stage production continued to touch audiences’ hearts. Constant requests for more performances paved the way for Three sides of the coin. This latest incarnation is more portable and sustainable, with separate scenes that can be adapted for specific workplaces and community groups.

Funded by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation's Local Prevention Grants Program, the project has worked with people from many different backgrounds, including members of the Vietnamese community affected by someone else’s gambling. All participants have had personal experience of gambling harm – and they are the heart and soul of Three sides of the coin.

Courage, laughs and tears

The creative process starts with artistic director Catherine Simmonds conducting weekly workshops to explore people’s diverse experiences and perspectives. It is a warm, playful and non-judgemental space, where trust is built through games and sharing.

‘There’s a great power in being witnessed,’ says Catherine. ‘You’re actually being witnessed for your own experience, which is the antithesis of shame.’

Catherine discovers what participants want to say to an audience. From there, scenes are devised from personal experiences and refined to become theatre to present to the wider community.

‘You’re actually being witnessed for your own experience, which is the antithesis of shame.’

Artistic director Catherine Simmonds

With enormous courage and many laughs and tears, the performers shed light on gambling harm – the inner voices, the pain, the shame, the toxic nature of the pokies. And they deliver their stories so convincingly that audiences find it hard to believe they are not trained actors.

As one audience member said, ‘To witness these scenes is to witness the truth – it bypasses your brain and touches your heart.’

Real people with real stories serve to amplify our common humanity.

Filmmaker Irene Metter captured the magic of the creative process and the performances in a 20-minute documentary filmed over 2015.

Three sides of the coin: the documentary

View video transcript

Advocates for change

While the workshops and performances have had a huge impact on personal healing, recovery and reconnection, they have also contributed significantly to community awareness about the complexities of gambling harm.

Performer Anna Bardsley explains. ‘Why publicly share the shameful, once secret life of gambling addiction? To speak for all those still unable to speak because of the shame attached to gambling. We find ourselves, unexpectedly, in the role of advocates for change.’

Three sides of the coin has been performed to drug and alcohol services, to community health services, to self-help groups, to police, to seniors groups, in prisons, at community expos and more.

‘Why publicly share the shameful, once secret life of gambling addiction? To speak for all those still unable to speak because of the shame attached to gambling.’

Performer Anna Bardsley

It feels like the stone has been cast into the pond and the ripples are beginning to spread. We invite you to join our journey!

For more information or to take part in our workshops, please email javisar@linkhc.org.au or call (03) 9564 6137. You can also visit Three sides of the coin.

If you are experiencing problems with gambling, or someone close to you has a problem, call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858. Find out more about getting help.

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