When I was writing my first play I hit a wall. A wise dramaturge asked me this question, and I continue to ask it again and again whenever I write or read a play. He asked, “What is it you want the audience talking about on the car ride home?” In other words, what are you really trying to talk about here?
We’ve been developing a new play script at Sarasvàti Productions—the local theatre company where I work. And although I haven’t been a part of the writing process, I have had the opportunity to see preliminary readings of the script.
The script has been developed in a unique way. Sarasvàti worked together with Artists in Health Care Manitoba, Red Threads Playback Theatre and the Selkirk Mental Health Centre as well as a list of Winnipeg organizations dedicated to mental health.
Artists from Sarasvàti facilitated workshops and interviewed almost 400 people; people with lived experience, caregivers, and the general community. From their stories Sarasvàti created a script that would reflect our community’s experiences with mental health.
People in this city engage with mental health every day. Many of us live with mental health issues, provide care for, or interact with someone who lives with a mental health issue regularly.
Yet mental health issues are still stigmatized to the point where we don’t feel comfortable—or educated enough—to talk about it.
And when we do talk about it, what are we saying? Are we gossiping? Are we downplaying someone else’s struggle because we’re uncomfortable with the thought of it? Are we glossing over our issues because we don’t want people to see us differently?
I think we’re at the point where we can acknowledge that mental health issues are stigmatized, but we are still allowing those stigmas to prevail in conversation, in our perception of others, and our perception of ourselves.
Breaking Through presents ideas about mental health that have come from the community. Like when the character KoKo meets an Elder in a vision, and the Elder tells her, “Since when did being at one with the spirit world become such a bad thing.” The play gives audiences a chance to see our community reflected back to us – some ideas we have about mental health are scary or ignorant, and some of the ideas we have are beautiful and intuitive.
On the (bike) ride home I thought about how I see my own mental health struggles as something that must be kept private. I thought about how often someone I know has causally mentioned they are on anti-depressants, or struggled with an eating disorder, how they used to self-harm, or how they are in the midst of moving their grandparent who has dementia.
I thought about how rarely we allow these statements to unravel into real, uncensored conversations. And I wondered how we’ll ever know how to deal if we don’t talk about it.
I’m looking forward to seeing the reading with a number of people in my life partly to enjoy the play, partly for the conversations we will have after they play; conversations about our own experiences.
You can catch a staged reading of Breaking Through at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film at the University of Winnipeg, 400 Colony St. on Sun. May 22 at 3 p.m., Tue. – Fri. May 24 – 27 at 7 p.m., and Sat. May 28 at 3 p.m.
Tickets $15 Regular / $10 Students & Seniors
Or go to sarasvati.ca