The project involved seven writers, eight performers, two professional artists and a Youth Advisory Panel of 26 young people. The young people involved were from Jigsaw Offaly, a confidential support service for those aged 12-25, and Offaly Youth Theatre.
The project aimed to open a conversation on youth mental health using the arts as a medium to provide an insight into the reality of living with a mental health issue. A youth-led project, Write Your Mind involved the participation of young people at every level from decision-making to performance to event management.
The process began with a call out to writers to submit monologues or short stories about youth mental health, told from the perspective of a young person growing up in Ireland. Playwright and screenwriter Eugene O’Brien (Eden, Pure Mule, Red Rock) worked with director Angela Ryan Whyte to assess the submissions from an artistic point of view while Gillian O’ Brien, Director of Clinical Governance at Headstrong, The National Centre for Youth Mental Health, assessed the material from a clinical point of view.
Six pieces of writing were selected and the writers were invited to collaborate with the leading artists, Eugene and Angela, and a group of young people to adapt and refine the scripts. Over a two-week process in August 2015, feedback was shared with the writers and they had the opportunity to share edited drafts with the group.
The young people advised the writers on how to include references that were more in keeping with how they would speak or react in a given situation.
‘Involving young people in the process gave the writers such clear insight and everyone commented on the cathartic quality of working in an open environment. For writers used to working in confinement, it was quite an experience to be taking notes from teenagers who were succinct, precise and without filter when it came to giving critique.’ – Director Angela Ryan Whyte
Once edits had been completed, auditions were held and the final script which comprised of six monologues went into rehearsal from September to December 2015.
The monologues covered a variety of themes including anxiety, bullying, self-harm, domestic violence, sexual identity and depression.
One young writer details her experiences of taking part in the project:
‘I’m Aly Scanlon and I’m in 5th year in the Sacred Heart School in Tullamore. I have always loved writing from a really young age and took pride in my collection of short stories as a kid! A member of the YAP [Youth Advisory Panel] for Jigsaw Offaly , I was presented with the amazing opportunity of writing a monologue based on Self Harm … After brainstorming loads of ideas, Jay Wilson was created, a 20 year old young man coming to terms with the death of his older brother. He turns to self harm as a coping mechanism, and the play is about Jay’s journey through the extremely difficult process of bereavement of a loved one. I feel that Jay, like the other characters in the Write Your Mind production, can resonate with so many people, young and old, who feel like they have to face their struggles alone, and losing someone you love is undoubtedly something that almost everyone can say they have been through at one time or another. With Eugene O’Brien’s invaluable help, the monologue went from being a quick draft on paper to a staged performance.’
The project culminated in two live performances:
Birr Theatre & Arts Centre, Co. Offaly in December 2015
Dunamaise Arts Centre, Portlaoise, Co. Laois in January 2016 as part of First Fortnight, Ireland’s annual arts and mental health festival
A total of 460 people attended the performances.
Workshops were evaluated through feedback forms, completed by both young people and adults. All aspects of the project were documented internally in the Jigsaw Data System.
Testimonials and feedback from audience were garnered through schools and professionals attending the performances.
‘It was very moving and powerful to say the least … I hope that the production can tour and be staged across the county and maybe even nationally to both adults and young people as it really captures the inner thoughts of youth mental health and the turmoils that can be within any of us. I definitely left feeling a greater sense of understanding regarding the issues addressed on stage.’
‘It was truly moving and the young cast would leave seasoned professionals in their wake. It’s a piece that should be performed in every school in the country.‘
‘The actors were impressive and because they were young we could relate to their stories.’
‘It talked about topics that many people are afraid to talk about.’
‘It was impressive that something so serious could be made humourous and enjoyable.’
‘The music really added to the atmosphere – the song was touching and easy to relate to.’
Above is some of the feedback we collected from audience members as a way of evaluating impact.
The main challenges the project faced was the co-ordination of rehearsals around the young actors’ school schedules. We overcame this by allowing ample time in the planning to be flexible to work weekends and evenings and to call on additional staff to support the project director. Completing the project within budget was also challenging given the scale of the production – the learning for us was to overestimate where possible to allow for unforeseen circumstances. We decided to postpone the final aspect of the planned project – the adaption of plays to radio and film – for the above reasons and also to allow for maternity leave for the project director.
Documentation and Dissemination
A number of blogs appeared online exploring aspects of the project, from call out to project completion.
Headstrong, Offaly Youth Theatre, Offaly County Council