To be honest I’ve never engaged with, or even really noticed, Mental Health Awareness Week – which, I believe, serves as evidence that week-long campaign a fortnight ago is still very much needed. I now find myself making a play which is fundamentally about mental health; well about one person’s mental health, his experience at one point of his life. And I’m trying to grasp hold of what we want to say about mental health through our work, at the Fringe this year and here, in our little corner of the internet.
So, during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week I followed the hashtags on twitter (#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek and #MHAW17), the top tweets with lots of likes and retweets, people sharing pictures, links to articles and blogs, and those sharing a bit of their own story in 140 characters. I imagine it’s hard to measure the success of a campaign like the Mental Health Awareness Week, but to me, who was just looking at twitter, it seemed successful in getting people to talk, think and be a little bit more aware of each other’s and their own mental health. The campaign might not work for everyone, but for some it might help them to know they are not alone.
When I try to work out why I want to make theatre, why art in all forms is important, it comes down to making sense of being alive, of not feeling alone and the shared experience. Yes, I hope the work I make is entertaining, tells a story and provokes some sort of thought, I always come back to the idea of making sense of the human condition. Artists aren’t unique with this idea, we are all trying to do it in some way or another. The same way we are all dealing with our own mental health and should take steps to look after it, like we look after our bodies.
“Good mental health is more than the absence of a mental health problem” are the opening words on the Mental Health Foundation website and this year their campaign approaches the subject from a new angle. “Surviving or Thriving?” is the question the campaign has asked, offering advice (in tweet form) about how to thrive. Simple things such as eating well, keeping active and taking a break to things that might be harder, like asking for help, talking and accepting who you are.
In Andy’s first blog he shared a little bit of his artistic process, how he began writing Scribble and how the most recent, and final, draft was written. It was a new and unique experience for me as a director. I mainly work on new writing, working closely with playwrights, in development, over coffee, talking through ideas, offering feedback, asking lots of questions or answering emails in a rambling form. I’ve rarely been in the room with a writer as they write an entire draft.
We’ve staged a work-in-progress version of Scribble before, last November at the Traverse as part of Hothouse, we’ve had many discussions about what the work is saying, it’s strengths and weaknesses. I’ve asked myself many questions about how I feel about the work, what it could do, what it shouldn’t do and how I could support the work. Sometimes that support was making cups of tea, supplying sugary biscuits, reading the script aloud, asking obvious questions, asking harder questions or just asking what happens next. We’ve survived the process of writing this play, and I think we’ve also thrived together. Reading back on draft 49, I’m very excited to get this script into a rehearsal room and put this work in front of an audience. We hope that it’ll help us to make a little bit more sense of being alive.