Sun-Mi Clyburn is nothing less than a soul diva. Not necessarily because of her beautiful, emotionally expressive singing, but more for the way she unapologetically delivers her most inner depths up to the world through spoken word.
Extremely confronting at times, her show features the personal account of one woman’s journey through major depression, a serious illness often resulting in suicide attempts, relationship breakdowns and a 10 tonne truck of symptoms that can mentally and emotionally drown the sufferer by making living a ‘normal’ life challenging.
The show starts with a content warning, letting those gathered know to expect descriptions of suicide and mental health scenarios, but nothing could completely prepare us for the stark portrayal of the suicide attempt she opens with. With the spotlight on her, there is nowhere to hide; she gives her all and her tears are real.
With a supporting six-piece band and not a dry eye in the house, Clyburn presents a monologue, which at times borders on dramatic soliloquy, bookended by covers of songs that help to expand upon her narrative. An old, bashed-up suitcase sits on stage next to her, perhaps signifying the baggage we take with us from one moment to the next or the opening up of one’s own inner contents and, as the show progresses, we see our diva unravel and emotionally unpack before us with accounts of some of the most brutal, isolating moments a human could endure.
At first, it seems as though she has come undone but then, the show takes a turning point and we realise there’s more to it than warranted shock value – there’s also hope, self-compassion and the promise of finding an anchor in the storm. Everyone likes a happy ending and, although chronic mental illness doesn’t follow a straight line, manifesting with the ebb and flow of periods of illness followed by recovery followed again by relapse, Clyburn talks in past tense when she details the most difficult parts of her illness.
Ultimately, Audiotherapy advocates for more understanding of mental health and also urges those experiencing it to reach out. “The people you let into your darkness can make or break you,” she says at one point before going on to explain that, despite suggestions to perform the show as a solo act, she would never do so without the band. In many ways, the show itself is a touching example of how one person can weather the storm with the help of friends and a little compassion.
Clyburn represents a beacon of hope for those struggling in the darkness. By expressing the things society so often wants to submerge, she’s found a way to conduct her own form of therapy in public view – a courageous and touching way to recreate, take back power and lead by example. A goddess of hope through adversity, her show is extremely powerful; possibly life changing.