“Hi. My name is Joe
And I work in a button factory
I’ve got a wife
And one day my boss said to me
He said, “Joe?
…Got a minute?”
He said “Push the button
With your left hand”
It was like being a kid again. The Theatre workshop at the Dragon Café let loose my imagination and opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I was part of a community full of great ideas, all of which were real in that room. Colourful currents of creative juices were flowing, intersecting and mingling within that sacred space. Every suggestion was validated, every feeling acknowledged. I felt safe and uplifted. For that one hour I could be anyone, anywhere with any story.
The interaction induced empathy. For a few minutes, each of our characters felt what it must be like to be in the other one’s shoes. We formed strong connections and had great fun.
I can see why Drama therapy works in schools, prisons, mental health centres, businesses and hospitals. It is an instrument for change, individual and social. It can help us work our way through a problem, discover some truths about ourselves, understand the meaning of images that resonate with us and explore and transcend unhealthy personal patterns of behaviour.
Saagar was a natural mimic and actor. Every time he auditioned, he got a good role. Predictably, he played one of the 3 wise men in his primary school nativity play. Then, he was Badger in Wind in the Willows. His last school play was Of Men and Mice in which he played the character of The Boss. He loved the team aspect of putting a production together. The last play he watched was ‘Book of Mormons’.
The hospital where we went when he was ill is just down the road from where we live. It is 18 minutes by bus, 10 minutes but car on a quiet day. The Emergency department is on the left. The Mental hospital is on the right. There is a visitor’s car park in front of the Mental hospital. That is where we parked the car. That is where we waited for a couple of hours to be seen by a psychiatrist. That is where I had to make my own way that day because Saagar refused to have me in the car with him and his father. That is where he should have been when he was severely ill a few weeks later. That is where he could have been saved.
That is where I went this afternoon to watch a play called ‘Hearing Things’, a play co-produced by patients and professionals, based on insights derived from 6 weeks of workshops involving actors and people with a mental illness, offering both an opportunity for expression, transformation and co-creation. Through a cast of 3, we met people of different races and age groups. It was about challenging assumptions. It was about the empathy and personalities of patients. It was about ‘the system’ and the dynamics within it, mental well being of health care providers and role-reversal. It was about giving people a chance.
“I am off now to be mad and I don’t have to be sectioned for it”, remarked one of the participants as drama gave him the freedom to be who he is, without fear of judgment. It was about the possibility of being ‘re-assembled’. It was powerful and moving. It did not mince words. I spoke loud and clear. It was accessible, funny, clever and heart-breaking.
One young person describes his experience of drama:
“…after you do the drama you get this feeling…it feels as if whatever was bothering you went away and you feel light and can do whatever you want around you, it makes the day simpler and you can concentrate on your activities, it makes you feel better, like at the end of the day when you come home from work tired and you want to put your feet up, you don’t feel guilty relaxing as you have done a hard days work. I wanted to understand the person and put myself in their shoes. At the end of it I felt good. 150% happy!”
It was about creating a new paradigm of relating to people suffering with mental illness. It was all heart.