Neil Gregory, a staff member at MHM, has spent the last few months supporting local student Chloe McLean to ensure that her BA (Hons) Final Major Project Performance represents mental illnesses on stage in a sensitive and accurate way.
Back in December we received a message from Chloe McLean, a student at the University of Teesside studying Performing Arts. As part of her studies she was planning to write, direct and produce her own stage performance. She decided to theme the production around mental health, in particular the conditions of anxiety, postnatal depression, bipolar disorder and eating disorders.
To gather real-life opinions and experiences, she had distributed an online survey among fellow students and local residents, to be completed anonymously by people who had experiences of one of the four conditions the performance was to focus on. Her lecturer suggested that she also contacted a mental health charity to gain a professional insight into the conditions and the experiences of those who deal with them on a daily basis. In this way, Chloe hoped that her performance would avoid reliance on stigmas or stereotypes.
Photographs courtesy of Chloe McLean
I met Chloe just before Christmas and answered her questions; we had a fascinating conversation covering both regarding mental health in general and the four conditions Chloe wished to look at in more depth. I was inspired by her commitment to give an accurate and realistic portrayal of the conditions, and her dedication for the subject. As a result I offered Chloe as much support as she wanted up to the day of the play, and Chloe gratefully accepted the offer.
Chloe sent through the scripts which made up the performance, which consisted of a variety of brief monologues, comedy pieces, dances and one act plays, each carefully scripted to create a cohesive production. We looked over these and offered advice to help refine the scripts before auditions began.
I was involved in the audition of about 10 people, who all said they has chosen to audition because of the subject material – for most is was close to their heart due to their own experiences or those of a loved one who had struggled with the conditions, hardly surprising given the statistic that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem each year. The passion that each person’s audition showed for the themes of mental health reinforced for me that that all those involved in the show deserved as much support as I could offer on behalf of MHM.
Rehearsals began in earnest in early February and have continued twice-weekly since. I have attended most of the rehearsals, and my input has involved discussing with the performers practical ways to create faithful depictions of the four conditions, based on my own experience of working with individuals with a range of mental health conditions. For example, I have been able to offer an insight into what body language someone with anxiety might display. All those involved have shown a genuine desire to learn and develop the characters to give an accurate portrayal as well as entertain the audience.
The final product is STIGMA, a show which raises awareness of the misconceptions of mental illness in society, portrayed through drama, featuring aspects of dance, music and physical theatre. It allows the audience to experience what others do on a daily basis; for one night only, mental illness will bare all, and it won’t be the performers that feel exposed!
Come along on Thursday 4th May at 7pm to the Margaret Armstrong Theatre, Stockton Riverside College to see this one-night-only performance!
Click HERE to book you tickets now, and follow the preparations on the STIGMA twitter account.
The performance is not-for-profit; tickets are being sold for a small fee (£5 each/£4 concessions) cover those costs of staging the production.
All audiences must be at least 18 years old, and have proof of identification if questioned.