As writer and actor currently working with Blackout Creative Arts I find it paramount that we as theatre makers and creators are open to any subject. Theatre acts as a mirror to those things we choose not to see in ourselves. We may be in denial of our problems, we may be fully aware, but either way, theatre has always been a platform to heighten, stylise, and essentially, package problems into a piece of art that must also entertain and illuminate. Because if we are not entertaining and exploring, it is not theatre.
However, there is a danger with any issue-based theatre; that when we deal with the personal, it is possible to stray into self-indulgence. Many have the best intentions when staging stories of mental health, but when each case is completely unique to that individual, it can become cathartic release for the artists more than the audience. Which only offers therapy for the artist.
We must remember the audience. An audience needs to empathise with the issues the characters are struggling with; to be welcomed into the world we are creating and be part of for it for the duration of the performance.
In my debut play ‘Fridge’ we have created a piece that uses spoken word, original music, text and physical theatre to tell the story of a young adult riddled by depression and loaded with prescription drugs. We have opened a door for us to explore the world she lives in through her senses; what does she hear? What does she see? What does that voice inside her sound like? What is memory and what is imagination, or, her disease? Unlocking new ways to engage people in simply talking about this is something the audience can take away with them when returning to reality outside the theatre. Starting conversations and unlocking emotive responses is a step in improving our contemporary society.
When mental health bleeds across age, race, sexuality and gender, proving there are no boundaries to the affected, it is a subject that touches all, the sufferers are not just the diagnosed, but the circles within circles of people around them. The tragedies, particularly within known hot spots, including my home town of Norfolk, over the past three years have shaken its communities and has put a substantial pressure on mental health services. Every one of us knows a victim of mental health and it is an increasingly tragic disease in our contemporary culture.
From Sarah Kane to Tennessee Williams and most recently, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, stories of mental health have dominated the interest of the theatre world. Why? Because it is a part of being human. And if theatre is a vehicle to investigate the human condition, then surely mental health should be a part of this exploration. The human condition is what propels theatre forward as a truly emotive and retrospective forum.
Emma Zadow brings her debut play FRIDGE to King’s Head theatre 15-22 July 2017. It deals with the mental illness amongst millennials in Norfolk.
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