Discover/Recover Theatre Project is a community collaborative spanning mental health services, arts and the education sectors. At the core of the project are individuals with lived experience of mental health difficulties who contributed their stories in the creation of the work.
The project is managed creatively and administratively by the Wexford Mental Health Association.
- Project Lead for Administration/Partnerships – Paula Lowney, Senior Occupational Therapist
- Project Lead for Co-Production in Arts – Mairead Connaughton, Senior Occupational Therapist
- Project Lead for Script Development/Educational Facilitation – Niall O’Muiri, Community Mental Health Nurse
- Project Lead for Drama Production – Jim Roche, Director and Actor
- Discover/Recover Storytellers – John Cloney, Jennifer O’Brien, Patricia O’Neill, Helen Finn, Liam O’Rourke, Anzela Dubovaskaja
- Discover/Recover Cast/Crew – Liam Hourican, Sean Duggan, Clare Barrett, Olga Wehrley, Stephanie Ryan, Denis Clohessey, John Gunning.
The model of the project is to invite participants to engage with the topic of mental health and suicide through a co-produced educational drama piece with three key themes:
- Be aware of mental health
- Seek Help
- And there is always a better day ahead – recovery happens…
Utilising the mediums of live drama performance (‘A Face in the Crowd’), a post-performance workshop facilitated by mental health professionals and a project booklet, participants are facilitated to explore:
- The human experience of mental health difficulties
- The vocabulary of mental health signs, positive and negative
- Supports available for individuals who experience mental health challenges
- The impact of suicide
- Problem solving in relation to mental health difficulties
- Help seeking
- The concepts of hope and recovery as it relates to mental health
The entire performance project ‘A Face in the Crowd’ was broken down into the following phases:
1. Storytelling Workshops – personal narratives harvested into a script
2. Page to Stage – community-based amateur dramatic production
3. Drama Educational Model – initial development and piloting
4. Professional Drama Production supported by Educational Drama Model
1/ Story Telling Workshops – Personal Narratives Harvested into a Script
Niall, Paula and Mairead sent out an initial invitation to a group of people with lived experience of mental health challenges and who attended the Wexford Mental Health Services to participate in a workshop series. The invitation read ‘What’s Your Story?’ and asked invitees if was there any part of their story that others could learn from.
Each week of the workshop series covered a different theme:
1. In the beginning – what was life like before you became unwell
2. Becoming unwell for the first time
3. My first admission to a psychiatric hospital
4. Suicide – my feelings and experience
5. Recovery and Hope – building a life beyond illness.
Workshop methods included group discussion and sharing, facilitated through keywords; art work and collage which were used in the early workshops to facilitate discussion; and video and documentary content which was used to expand on themes. The most effective approach was two site visits to St Senan’s Hospital, then closed to the public. These visits marked a turning point in the group, a united realization and vision that their stories were unique and valuable and had to be shared, so that others could learn.
2/ Page to Stage – Community Based Amateur Dramatic Production
After the first two sessions of the storytelling workshops, the immense strength and depth of the stories emerged and our participants strongly advocated that other people in the community would benefit from hearing these stories, as it would raise awareness of mental health challenges. It was decided that Niall, as a writer, would take on the role of observer, to listen and take notes with a view to recording large elements of everyone’s stories, and from that to develop a working script which morphed into the play ‘A Face in the Crowd’.
In the play, we meet six characters and hear compelling accounts of their unique experiences of their mental health difficulty and their recovery journeys, both from a personal perspective and the perspective of their loved ones.
This piece of theatre was created by local individuals for their community. Born out of the belief that through the telling of real stories we become aware of the recovery process from mental health difficulties.
This piece was created from a simple invitation: “What is your story?… is there a part of your story that others can really learn from? This is no fairy tale. Whilst this play contains stories of sadness, confusion, loneliness, rebellion, despair, it also contains stories of humour, support, hope and most of all acceptance.
– Extract from Prologue: ‘A Face in the Crowd’
The play consisted of four scenes:
- In the Beginning – what life was like before experiencing a mental health difficulty
- The Red Brick Building on the Hill – becoming unwell for the first time
- Jimmy’s Story – impact of suicide on loved ones
- Recovery and Hope – there is always a better day ahead
Each scene is a patchwork of individual stories as told under the themes.
The project team had to look within their skill set and resources to maximize the potential of bringing the stories from page to stage. This culminated in harnessing the resources of volunteers from the Bunclody/Kilmyshall Drama Group to work alongside our storytellers under the direction of Mairead Connaughton to bring these stories to life in a full-scale stage production. In December 2015 and January 2016, ‘A Face in the Crowd’ was performed at amateur level in Wexford Arts Centre in front of full houses.
3/ Initial Development and Piloting of the Drama Educational Model
Each stage of the process was transformative – from workshops to the initial set of public performances – in unlocking more and more potential. During the second set of public performances, we invited a sample of secondary school students and facilitated an exploratory workshop after the show. This served to further cement the educational potential of the piece.
The educational drama model allowed us to acknowledge the expertise of the storytellers gained from their lived experience and harness the learning potential in the sharing of this knowledge with the public and more directly with secondary school students.
We managed the ethical responsibility of exploring the topic of mental health and recovery by seeking training in programme development at a local community training centre, carrying out a wide consultative process with parents, teachers and a regional suicide resource office. A process of developing co-produced educational material to accompany the performance and workshop was undertaken to act as a reference point for support and information for the students and the schools hosting the project.
The initial pilot of the drama educational model was undertaken and evaluated in November 2016 in four school across Wexford County, performed again by volunteers from the Bunclody/Killmyshal Drama Group.
4/ Professional Drama Production supported by Educational Drama Model
Following the initial pilot of the drama educational model there was significant interest and demand generated among local secondary schools across Wexford County and in other areas e.g. from Carlow Mental Health Association. The vision of our storytellers, who now formed a steering group for the project, was for the project and the stories involved to reach as many young people and communities across the region as possible. We adapted our project model and resourcing to incorporate a professional theatre production, under the direction of Jim Roche, reaching greater numbers of young people and communities. This in turn freed up project leads to apply their resourcing to the delivery of the educational workshops that accompanied the play. Consultations occurred at a number of junctures between the professional actors and storytellers to inform the artist process and to ensure fidelity to the personal narratives.
December 2015-January 2016
Four sold out public performances in Wexford Arts Centre with an audience of over 400 people.
Three school-based touring performances in Wexford with an audience of 250 senior cycle secondary school students.
Four public performances at The George Bernard Shaw Theatre, Visual Carlow; Enniscorthy Presentation Centre and Wexford Arts Centre. Seven performances for secondary schools in Carlow and Wexford and 29 educational workshops. A total audience over 1,200 people including 889 secondary school students.
A sold out performance at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin as part of the First Fortnight arts and mental health festival with an audience of 80 people.
Down the years you were always there, Jimmy, with me, hovering in the background of my memory. No matter where I was, wherever I am; Lost in a crowd, On the side line up at the pitch, Or on my way to Croker, or a Bruce Springsteen gig in the RDS… I always, always, despite the years find myself searching for your face in the crowd. You are forever young in my memory Jimmy … Still 17 ….us wild and free…
And still, I can’t help but wonder what might have been…If only.
All you had to do Jimmy… If only for one split second you hesitated, turned back and asked – if only you’d asked for help. Look at all you missed. In your darkest moment, your darkest hour…no matter what – there is always hope, there is always a better brighter day ahead… All you had to do was ask for help.
– Extract from the play by Niall O’Muiri: ‘Jimmy’s Story – impact of suicide on loved ones’
Every educational workshop during 2016 and 2017 was evaluated from the perspective of the student participants.
In 2017, all audience members both for school and public performance were invited to complete an impact slip capturing their reaction to the performance and any change in perception on the topic as a result of same.
In 2018, Wexford Mental Health Association published ‘Discover/Recover Theatre Project Activities 2017: Summary and Evaluation’.
Impact measurement following performances captured positive feedback from students and teachers:
‘Powerful, honestly, performed amazingly’
‘It opened by eyes both to myself and other people’
- Increased awareness of mental health
- Normalised the experience
- Significant increase in confidence and ability to seek help
- Increased ability to manage own mental health and that of others around them
- Message of recovery and hope
- The way suicide is dealt with in the play could be life-saving.
‘If I ever feel in any way suicidal I know I can get through.’
‘You know that you will always have something to help and make you look forward even though things aren’t looking good right now.’
‘No problem lasts your whole life.’
‘My family have a history of mental health so I know what to do if it happens to me.’
‘Should I go through a problem I will know how to handle it.’
‘to help a friend in need or to help myself if I experienced signs of mental health‘
‘Could help save a life.’
One of the key strengths of the project was the sharing of personal narratives of lived experience of mental health difficulties through the medium of the co-produced workshops and the drama educational model.
Throughout the development of the project, the educational potential of the medium of drama and storytelling was apparent, in particular in increasing understanding of the complex nature of mental health and exploring strategies for people to manage their own wellness.
Working in partnership with multiple organisations with shared goals yet specific skill sets, increased the capacity and scope of the project and the potential to reach wider communities.
The high response rates of schools willing to facilitate the project demonstrates the need for opportunities and innovative ways to engage in mental health education.
Further research and evaluation of the project is required, supported by a third level institute, to examine the efficacy and safety of the model.
Documentation and Dissemination
At each phase of the project, detailed project plans facilitated development and communication of the project vision, actions and evaluations to funders and partners.
A cinematic trailer of ‘A Face in the Crowd’ was filmed at Smock Alley Theatre in January 2018.
Local media in Wexford and Carlow have captured the events of the various phases via radio and newspaper articles.
The Discover/Recover Project Team has responded to invitation to be guest lecturers in the Schools of Occupational Therapy at Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork, providing education to OT students on the project model and outcomes, based on an evaluation of the activities of 2015-2018.
The team presented at the AOTI National Conference 2017 as recipients of the Ann Beckett Award for Innovation in Occupational Therapy, and also presented at the Critical Perspectives in Mental Health Conference in Cork in November 2017.
HSE Waterford/Wexford Mental Health Services; Mental Health Ireland; Ann Beckett Committee – Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland; Bunclody/Kilmyshall Drama Group; Wexford Arts Centre; Carlow IT – Wexford Campus; Recovery College South East; The Visual, Carlow; Smock Alley Theatre; The Presentation Centre, Enniscorthy; secondary schools across Wexford and Carlow.