Theatre of The Mind
In 2015, I worked with a Senior Mental Health Occupational Therapist, Selina Dare, to develop Resilience workshops and explore ways in which to use drama as a tool, to facilitate young people’s exploration of what mental health means to them, and how to be resilient in times of difficulty.
Selina and I secured enough funding to work with over 130 young people in school years 6&7 throughout Brixham. In 2013, the town was hugely affected by the tragic death of a 14-year-old young person, Izzy Dix. The heartbreaking loss was due to bullying over a sustained period of time, to the point where Izzy couldn’t cope any longer and could see no other way out, so took her own life.
This propelled lots of community action, and that is why Selina and I joined forces, to do something positive in the community and attempt some form of action, that would support young people to understand their mental health a bit more and develop a dialogue around this. Participants in the Resilience workshops were invited to our first devised musical, Grit by Doorstep Youth Theatre. This provided a narrative and a thematic link to hook young people into the concept of Resilience. Read more about this in Erin’s previous Blog Post.
Now, in 2018, it still feels very relevant, the rise in young people’s mental health problems is exponential.
‘…Almost 400,000 children and young people aged 18 and under are in contact with the health service for mental health problems. According to the figures, the number of “active referrals” by GPs in April was a third higher than the same period two years prior. Those seeking help for conditions such as depression and anxiety showed a sharp increase.’
(Mary O Hara, The Guardian – 2018).
Through our Open Doors strand of the NPO funding we were awarded, we were able to offer an Artist In Residence at Brixham College for year 8 pupils at the school. Every young person in the year will receive 3-targeted Theatre of The Mind workshops, which focus on 3 principal aims:
Workshop 1: Name and understand feelings physically, through defining and understanding embodied and emotional literacies.
Workshop 2: Highlight our own instinctive triggers & reactions to difficult situations.
Workshop 3: Making & practicing new reactions to difficult situations in a supportive environment, with help from other students in the class.
These workshops have been planned collaboratively with artist Becky Louise Dobson, Katie Beddoe, our intern from the USA and I. They have been inspired by the previous workshops I led with Selina Dare and also by a book written by my former lecturer Fiona Macbeth Playing With Fire. I have also consulted with the wonderful Games for Actors and Non Actors by Augusto Boal and Theatre for Living by David Diamond.
Outcomes so far
We are a quarter of the way through our time with the year 8s at Brixham College. So far we have worked with 2 classes and completed all three workshops with them.
Students have been responding well to them, stating that they have been looking forward to the sessions each week. We can see a marked progress in how they understand what mental health is through questions we asked them at the beginning and then at the end. However, there are a few systemic problems that cannot be rectified.
- Firstly, We are seeing them once every other week, the time and distance between each workshop is too long. Too much has happened over the two weeks between each session that, although they remember parts of what we explored, the consistency to be able to have a fresh understanding of embodied emotion, for example, is not at the forefront of their mind and so an element of refreshing our memories and reflecting on what we learnt in the previous week is essential. This leads me on to the second systemic issue.
- The workshops are 1-hour long. This works best for the school as we are working with the students in their social studies (PSHE) lessons. However, students have to register in their classroom before they get to the dance studio and that often takes a good 10 minutes off the session. So these workshops are quick fire delivery with not enough process time within them for my liking. Students also have 3 minutes between classes to get to their next lesson, if they are late they get a warning or detention, so they are anxious to leave a little early – would it be right of me to insist that they stay right until the end, if it means they get a detention because they are late and feel anxious as a result of this, in a session that is supposed to support positive mental health?
- There are a few more points that aren’t for this blog post!
These systemic problems result in young people not getting the time and space necessary to explore the workshop aims. In an ideal world, I propose that we would have 3 full consecutive days, every other month for an understanding that is more substantial, embodied, digested and will provide the tools to cope better in difficult situations long into adulthood.
In a time of austerity, schools simply don’t have the funding to pay for artists to run these sessions and therefore cannot provide the time and space for it to exist in a more embedded way into the curriculum. Radical political change needs to happen to enable this!
Until then, I will do what I can to ensure that as many young people as possible get the opportunity to engage in Theatre of The Mind across Torbay!