April 18 2011

Women and Mental Health Conference Blog

Women and Mental Health Conference

by Tracy Evans, Drama Development Worker

We were invited by Mental Health Matters to present some of our drama work at the Women and Mental Health conference in March 2011. Our youth theatre, with Alyson Evans at the helm, had made a piece of Forum Theatre in October 2010 called Pretty Ugly. The drama explored issues of image and self-esteem, as experienced by teenagers in our communities. It was very well received on its tour of Bridgend borough schools as part of National Anti-bullying week.

We wanted to use this performance as the stimulus for our presentation at the conference. We decided to use one of the main characters, Kate, played by Megan Mattravers from Pencoed Comprehensive, to portray the kinds of difficulties she faced in accepting her own self-image. We created new sequences of text, by creating a montage from what the other characters in the play say about/to Kate. The effect was that Kate now had internalised voices that, in themselves, were making it difficult for her to stay healthy. Sharleen, who played Gemma in the original play, used her voice to record these voices.

We presented three excerpts that showed Kate’s increasing withdrawal from people around her as a way of coping with her lack of confidence. We used a technique borrowed from Augusto Boal called ‘Cop in the Head’ to workshop these short pieces with the audience. Interventions included the audience developing the range of ‘cops’ in Kate’s head, as well as exploring what kind of wisdom Kate’s older-self* might be able to offer her to help her now.

My feeling is that we hold all the wisdom we need inside us. But most of us have forgotten/not been told this. It has been lost in modern living, with a reliance on outside help, which we are frequently encouraged to ‘buy’. If our children were taught how to listen, hear, and accept their own voice, then I believe we would not have such high levels of mental health illness.

(*The original play had a simple set that included three full-length wooden structures that represented mirrors. We used one of these in the performance. We introduced Kate, twenty years older, who could ‘speak’ to young-Kate, from the other side of the mirror).