Hello, Internet, today is Tuesday, March 8th, and yesterday, 520 junior high and high school students and teachers saw Give Me Back at the Stephenville Arts & Culture Centre.
Our day started with a quick run for bagels and then a 9am call for a 10am show. Honestly, this is one of the oddest things about doing theatre for schools: we are all used to showing up at 6 or 7pm to perform at 7 or 8 at night. Doing a show at 10am means that everyone shows up a bit bleary and then has to use the dark theatre to trick themselves (ourselves) into thinking it’s at least the afternoon. Sometimes this takes the form of walking around the greenroom saying “it’s the afternoon, it’s the afternoon.”
The first show had the larger audience, and they had a lot of really interesting questions at talkback. What’s the difference between schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder? Why did you use the boxes? Do you think there is a negative stigma of schizophrenia that is propagated by the media? Why did you choose schizophrenia to write about?
The standout thing about yesterday was that I was set to teach a writing workshop to 50 students between shows. The purpose of the workshop was not so much to strengthen their writing skills (although practice is the best thing you can do for that) as to give them an opportunity to use writing to process what they had just seen, and some of the stuff that the students volunteered to read aloud was fantastic: full of heart, with concrete details and even a bit of rhyming. The final exercise was to take a conversation from their own lives that they wish they had gone differently and to rewrite it. Not surprisingly, nobody volunteered to read from their work after that one, but one student told me afterwards that he wanted to rewrite many of his conversations, and I hope that he uses that exercise to process, and, perhaps, to become more sure of himself. Another student, who had seen the show at Holy Heart in April, told me that the first time he saw it, he went away processing all of the emotional content, but this second time, he noticed that mental illness doesn’t just affect the one person; it affects that person’s friends and family as well. This struck a chord for me, especially after – that morning – having read this blog post about exactly that, written by a colleague and personal hero. I love that students are seeing this play, thinking about it, and applying those thoughts to their own lives.
Our second audience was smaller, but just as keen. For the second talk back, Angel Osmond of the Stephenville office of the Canadian Mental Health Association NL came to speak. Having Angel there was an awesome experience. She pointed out that schizophrenia directly affects only 1% of the population – a fact that I often forget to mention – but that they may see symptoms like this in a friend or a family member. She also got to publicly thank the students who were attending from the high school in Port-aux-Basques, who had made a donation to CMHA-NL, and who in turn had dedicated some of that money to helping us bring Give Me Back to Stephenville.
Let me pause here for a moment to just thank the Canadian Mental Health Association. They have been a fabulous partner from the moment that we approached them: they applied for funding on our behalf, and when that didn’t work out, they simply donated some money to the project – a welcome and completely unexpected surprise. CMHA-NL works to bring mental health resources into the community, wherever they are. They work to improve mental health conditions in workplaces, they bring resources into schools for children, and do a wide array of work to influence policy and build capacity for communities to address mental health needs. They are an amazing organization and we are lucky to have their support.
After the second show, we loaded out and – for the first time – tried to simplify the packing process, since we’re not doing any more flying. This meant leaving 2 boxes and all of the box lids intact, so all the cardboard fit into one of the giant brown u-haul boxes. We bade a sad goodbye to the other, more broken box.
On the upside, though, we no longer had any need for the bubble wrap that we’d used to cushion our boxes inside their boxes, so Evan cheered himself up with some good, old-fashioned bubble wrap popping.
There is now bubble wrap in random pockets throughout the tour van, to be popped as necessary.
After loading out and wishing the Stephenville Arts & Culture Centre staff well, we went for a short drive to the beach, which is just stunningly beautiful in winter, and I thanked my stars for the incredible opportunity to be on this tour.