How Theatre Can Change You and How You Can Change Theatre

Tabby reflects on her time working on an uplifting piece of theatre about homelessness 

Twelve weeks ago I walked into a room full of strangers not knowing what to expect. Twelve weeks later me and a group of people I now call friends have a show which we’re about to put on at one of my favourite Bristol venues – the Wardrobe Theatre. A show which addresses important issues, which is both funny and heart-wrenching and which we are all really proud of.

The advert I saw said ‘Are you aged 16-25 with experiences of homelessness, temporary accommodation and / or mental ill-health? Want to make a performance about your stories and help increase people’s understanding about issues affecting young people?’

The short answer was yes, but I’m sure I wasn’t alone in struggling to show up that first time. Fortunately Olivia (Many Minds’ Director), the entire Many Minds team and all the other participants were so warm and supportive that we were all able to safely express what we were feeling and learn to cope with that in a group setting. One of the reasons why we all felt so comfortable was the way that the team structure the workshops. Each session starts with a check in, we say how our day’s been and where we’re at, if we need anything from the group, and then at the end we check out, saying something we enjoyed, something we found challenging and a reflection on yourself or another/others – perhaps it seems small but acknowledging how you are out loud to the group has allowed us to feel listened to and uninhibited while creating and exploring theatre which surrounds our own lives.

This is particularly important because of the type of theatre we have been devising. I didn’t know much about Forum Theatre before but I think in the first or second session Olivia described it as “a blend of theatre and activism”.

In forum theatre the audience are not just passive, they are invited to stop the performance and come up on stage to try out different approaches

Essentially in forum theatre the audience are not just passive, they are invited to stop the performance and come up on stage to try out different approaches a character might take when dealing with oppression. It is a powerful way to open up discussions about how to change people’s lives.

As a group we have all faced homelessness and/or mental illness, and during the devising process we looked at stimuli based on difficulties we have faced. We discussed oppression, feelings of failure, body image, negative stereotyping and the pressures of 24-hour social networking. Contemporary issues which feel incredibly important to discuss but which can also trigger things in people. Thankfully the Many Minds team keep a strong focus on you being able to be authentically yourself; it’s ok to not feel your best when you don’t feel your best, it is important to recognise your feelings and to accept them – which in itself reduces the anxiety and even when I have personally found the sessions challenging I have genuinely left every time with a smile on my face.

Struggling with mental illness can be very isolating, and can dent the person you think you are – it has brought out a lot of confidence and laughter in all of us

Before this project I was working with a Rethink volunteer on anxiety. I had reached a point at which I was able to leave the house and we were trying to find a group activity. I wanted to get involved with Many Minds because it seemed like a great way to meet other people with similar interests. And now I realise it was so much more than that. It’s had a huge impact on my life. Struggling with mental illness can be very isolating, and can dent the person you think you are – I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling it has brought out a lot of confidence and laughter in all of us, and what has been amazing is how close we have all become. Through the project I was able to transition back into university. It has truly been life changing.

The show we have created has come from us all opening up and sharing things which it’s not easy to share. The show we have created, I believe, is affecting and real. We explored a lot of difficult, important questions and topics. We’ve all had a rollercoaster of a time making it and would love it if you were there to join us. You don’t have to get involved – but don’t miss the conversation!

For this project Bristol based mental health charity Many Minds have collaborated with Cardboard Citizens, Wyldwood Arts, 1625 Independent People, Aglow Films and Rife Magazine. The project is supported by Bristol City Council, Quartet Community Foundation and People’s Health Trust.

For more information or to reserve tickets to this Pay What You Decide performance at The Wardrobe Theatre on Friday 19 October at 3pm visit www.many-minds.org/changetheseen