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Awkward Conversations


Event Status

Awkward Conversations features artists with lived experience tackling anxieties, habits and hard-to-talk about subjects around mental health in intimate one-on-one conversations with audience members.


Sometimes the best conversations are awkward. What if you say the wrong thing? What if you make too much eye contact? Or not enough? What if nothing is spoken at all? Or your conversational partner is unlike anyone you have ever met before?  

Awkward Conversations plays with the idea that discussions about mental health are inevitably ‘awkward’, setting creative artists and inspiring thinkers the task of making them inviting, accessible, stimulating, meaningful and personal.  

Participants are invited to engage in one-on-one conversations with guest artists Clem Bastow, Stéphanie Kabanyana Kanyandekwe, Debra Keenahan, Tom Middleditch, Peta Murray, Khin Myint, Nicola Redhouse, Daniel Regan and Anna Spargo-Ryan. Maybe you’ll have a discussion with someone unexpected, sit in silence, or talk through the experience of being different. 

Awkward Conversations is a series of one-on-one encounters that interrogate and expand on what constitutes a conversation.  

To participate in this event you must be 18+. 

Illustration by Megan Herbert.

Presented in partnership with RMIT Culture and UNSW as part of The Big Anxiety


Wheelchair accessible

Accessible toilets available

Please notify us of all access requirements when booking online so we can assist you with your visit. If you require further information, please contact reception on 03 9094 7800 or

Guest Artists


Anna Spargo Ryan  

Anna is a perpetually anxious writer who uses lyricism to offer new language describing the experience of life with psychosis and other serious mental illness.  

What to expect:   

Join Anna for a conversation about the words we use to articulate the psychology and physiology of mental health, how they restrict us, and how bringing poetry into medicine can make everyone’s life a bit easier.  

Please note: Anna Spargo Ryan will be appearing virtually for this session. 



Clem Bastow  

Clem Bastow grew up feeling like she’d missed a key memo on human behaviour. It wasn’t until Clem was diagnosed as Autistic, at age 36, that things clicked into focus. Her memoir, Late Bloomer, celebrates the realities of Autistic experience and considers the “what if” moments throughout her life through the prism of late-diagnosed self-knowledge.  

What to expect:

Experience the world as Clem does through an immersive audio experience, followed by a conversation using sensory elements to explore and explode myths and misconceptions about Autism, and how it has shaped Clem’s life in powerful ways.  



Daniel Regan  

Daniel found his voice through pictures. Drawing on his own experience with self-injury and self-harm, Daniel finds language in photography in the absence of words (and it helps).  

What to expect:  

Join Daniel in a collaborative visual conversation focusing on your current emotional landscape by constructing and reconstituting his photographs and found imagery. Talk if you like, or let the conversation be guided by your creative endeavours.  



Nicola Redhouse  

Nicola Redhouse is a writer who is interested in the ways we think about and treat mental pain, and  the capacity for talking therapy to make real and lasting change, and for words and communications to hold subterranean secrets. Her book Unlike the Heart explores her experience of anxiety via an interrogation of the workings of talking therapy and medication.  

What to expect:  

‘You’re trying to work out what’s stopping you enjoying each other’s company’, says psychoanalyst Adam Phillips on a good outcome for therapy. Can you enjoy yourself with someone else? Spend time drawing, writing, doodling, playing or making with various art supplies in the company of Nicola, while she reads to you from her book. What might you make, and what might you not be able to make, in the company of another person?  



Stéphanie Kabanyana Kanyandewe  

Stéphanie experiences the world through several forms of synaesthesia (sound/colour/texture, auditory-tactile, spatial sequence), meaning that she will experience a single stimulus like sound or light as a range of multi-sensory effects. Fluorescent globes are Star Wars light sabers burning eyes and splitting her skull to the sound of high volume electrical noise, that squeaky trolley wheel at the supermarket induces full body pins and needles and yet music is often like billowing rainbow clouds she can only assume are akin to being on LSD. Life’s a trip in Stéphanie’s world, and as multidisciplinary artist and composer she invites you into the journey.  

What to expect:    

Using physical, aural and visual props, Stéphanie will offer conversationalists a phsyically immersive insight into her life as a synaesthete as she discusses neurodiversity and mental health and the positive outcomes that arise from opening yourself up to more sensory experiences.    



Tom Middleditch  

Tom Middleditch is an ASD/ADHD artist and access and inclusion specialist in Melbourne Australia. He works as the Access and Inclusion Coordinator for RISING, Access Coordinator for MIFF, and The Artistic Director of A_tistic. As the director, he and his team of multidisciplinary neurodivergent artists, consultants, and educators aim to bring neurodivergent lives, insights, and experiences to the stage.   

What to expect:  

Got any questions about autism or ADHD you haven’t found the right place to ask? Confused about it all? Wondering what the deal with saying ‘With Autism’ instead of ‘Autistic’? Tom is here to talk about that. Or not, he’s also quite ADHD so the conversation might spiral wildly out of control because there is something more stimulating that comes through. Who knows. Should be fun though!  



Khin Myint  

Struggles with bullying and toxic masculinity in his youth led to mental health issues and a suicide attempt. Khin recovered through singing, travel, meditation and storytelling. Later in life, his family grappled with questions of euthanasia and mental-versus-physical disease as his sister’s mysterious illness took centre stage in their lives, before she euthanised in 2013.  

What to expect:  

Share a conversation with Khin about how stereotypes and binary thinking around illness, gender and race might have impacted our unique stories. Khin will use prompts to provoke reflective thinking if needed.  



Peta Murray  

Peta Murray likes to walk her own talk. She has always made art from pedestrian matters. Play and perambulation are critical to her lifelong management of GAD and Depression. She is an expert on grief and loss, and a believer in daily rites and rituals of meaningful irreverence. She is also an HSP but will not disclose what this is, because it takes one to know one!   

What to expect:

In this conversation I set out to take an Audit of your Playfulness and an Inventory of your Inanity.  Together we will give your Inner Childishness a thorough Check-up. This is a Serious Matter. As a qualified Doctor, I may then undertake, with your permission, to Finetune your Frivolity, or Recharge your Risibility, and/or to nurse your Appetite for the Nonsensical back to Rude Health. No Guarantees. Terms and Conditions apply. 


Debra Keenahan

Debra has achondroplasia dwarfism. She is always looked at, often stared at, sometimes laughed at, but what she really wants is to be spoken with.

What to expect:

Take a walk with Debra and find out how she sees the world and the world sees her.

Please note: Debra Keenahan will only be appearing on Friday 7 October. 

The Big Anxiety

The Big Anxiety festival is the largest mental health and arts festival in the world, and promotes mental health and wellbeing through exciting arts projects that combine science and creativity. The 2022 festival will be held in October in Melbourne. 


The Big Anxiety


Clem Bastow

Clem Bastow’s debut nonfiction book Late Bloomer was published in July 2021. Her writing appears regularly in The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Big Issue. She co-wrote and co-presented the 2017 ABC podcast Behind The Belt, a documentary “deep di... Read more

Stéphanie Kabanyana Kanyandekwe

Stéphanie Kabanyana Kanyandekwe is a Rwandan-British composer and multidisciplinary storyteller and broadcaster working between Narrm/Melbourne, and Rwanda. Multiple forms of synaesthesia add a neurodiverse dimension to Stephanie’s identity as a third culture individual. Stéphanie’s research-b... Read more

Debra Keenahan

Debra Keenahan is an artist, psychologist and author. She has exhibited in group and solo exhibitions and sole and co-authored a book, book chapters and articles. Her work focusses upon the personal and social impacts of disability. Having achondroplasia dwarfism, Debra brings personal insight to un... Read more

Tom Middleditch

Tom Middleditch is an ASD/ADHD artist and access and inclusion specialist in Melbourne Australia. He works as the Access and Inclusion Coordinator for RISING, Access Coordinator for MIFF, and The Artistic Director of A_tistic. As the director, he and his team of multidisciplinary neurodivergent arti... Read more

Khin Myint

Khin Myint is an Australian-Burmese writer from Perth. His debut memoir, Fragile Creatures, is about how his family tackled his sister’s wish to die as she fought a non-terminal illness. Set in the world’s most isolated city, events take him and his mother to other countries as they search f... Read more

Peta Murray

Peta Murray is a recovering playwright turned writer-performer and late-blooming academic. Best known for her plays Wallflowering and Salt, she has been awarded a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Drama, an Australian Writers’ Guild Gold AWGIE and a Centenary Medal for Services to Literatur... Read more

Nicola Redhouse

Nicola Redhouse has been published widely, writing on topics ranging from postnatal medication to the conundrum of objective measurement in mental health, in publications including The Age, the Australian, The Monthly, Island, and Women’s Agenda. Her fiction appears in the literary journals Meanji... Read more

Daniel Regan

Daniel Regan is a UK based photographic artist exploring complex emotional experiences, focusing on the transformational impact of arts on mental health, building on his own lived experience. His work focuses on themes of wellbeing and brokers dialogue around often taboo topics. He shoots commission... Read more

Anna Spargo-Ryan

Anna Spargo-Ryan is the Melbourne-based author of The Gulf and The Paper House, and a winner of the Horne Prize. Her short fiction has been published in The Big Issue, Island, Kill Your Darlings and The Lifted Brow. She has also written for the Guardian, ELLE, Meanjin and Good Weekend, among other p... Read more


The Garden Building, RMIT University

Level 5, Building 10, RMIT University 376-392 Swanston Street, Melbourne Entry access from Bowen Street (between Swanston and Russell streets), above the Streat Cafe. Elevator behind Streat Cafe.

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