Talking Heads

Gina McKie Interview SMHAFF

Gina McKie, Radio Clyde presenter, is not only passionate about the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, but also about helping others with anxiety, fears, phobias and confidence. Gina hosted the Renfrewshire Festival launch event, Feel Good Friday, where she spoke more about inspiring change.

‘I’m a talker, of course, so I’m currently halfway through creating my own audiobook. I could write things down, but it’s easier for me to record them.’

Gina is a qualified counsellor, hypnotherapist, reiki master and Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner. She has also studied Psychology. But it is from her years of working in the media that she has seen how limiting a lack of confidence can be:

‘It’s easy to lose confidence, and I’ve seen it be knocked out of people. I’ve known people who want to go on auditions for TV and films, and just can’t find the confidence to do it.’

And that’s where her latest venture, her audiobook Change Your Life Over Lunch, comes in.

‘Confidence doesn’t grow like hair or nails. This audiobook is my system to build confidence. I want people to go out and grasp at what they want in life, not to get caught up in the minutiae and to stop worrying what others will think. I want to make a difference in their life.’

It seems like Gina is already making a huge difference in the lives of her current clients, who she loves to ‘help fly’. And it is this nurturing, warm persona that makes Gina so inviting, and so very genuine.

 

Written by Louise Marie Smith

Image by Stephen Rygielski

 

You can listen to a free chapter from Gina’s audiobook on her website: www.ginamckie.com.

Feel Good Friday SMHAFF Renfrewshire Launch

Radio Clyde’s Gina McKie invited us to feel good on Friday with the launch of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival in Renfrewshire. This afternoon of theatre, music, poetry and song kick started the programme and gave us a sneak peek at what’s to come.

First up to perform at The Wynd Auditorium was Jenny Lindsay, whose intense performance poetry captivated everyone in the room. After experiencing mental ill-health and getting some much needed space to recover, Jenny penned a poem about what she went through, detailing her days on a scale of 1-10. ‘Six is fine, six is fine’ she tells us, though the deeper context is that it’s really not.

Next up was Arts Co-ordinator Sarah Grant, who spoke about the upcoming Paisley Poetry Trail, which continues until Saturday 31st October. Sarah has been immersed in organising the Renfrewshire events and, after a busy week, said how much she was looking forward to attending the events and seeing everything come together.

Theatrial performance Cirque Du Passion by Changing Stages took us through the connotations of passion in mental health. The struggles caused by anxiety pushing passion to the back of your head was beautifully demonstrated in the group’s performance. The actors spoke of passion and its ‘bully brother’ mania, the taker to passion’s giver.

With passion at the heart of this year’s festival, Gina took this opportunity to speak to the audience about her own: confidence building and helping others deal with anxiety attacks, fears and phobias. She is currently halfway through recording her forthcoming audiobook on confidence and esteem, which she hopes will help others realise that ‘the most important thing you can invest in is yourself’.

Andrew Eaton-Lewis, Arts Lead from the Mental Health Foundation, spoke of this year’s theme, explaining that passion is not only central to the festival’s ethos, but is what ultimately drives artists. 

Static, a short film by Louise Baird, led us in to the disarray of the depressed and anxious mind, before finishing with hope, that maybe it’s all ‘not that bad’. In an energetic performance, Claire Craig also performed the Charleston, complete with 1920s dress. She will be running a dance workshop, Passionate About Dance, on Monday 26th October as part of this year’s festival.

George Walker, Ruth Adamson and Julie Hardie of Paisley Writers Group opened up their hearts and minds with prose and poetry readings. Ruth’s passion and pride at what she can bake beamed across the room and Julie’s poem captured perfectly the feelings of many fighting their way through mental ill health: ‘I just don’t deal well with roundabouts and swings’.

Jeanette Allan, Renfrewshire Festival Co-ordinator, spoke fervently about the region's commitment to arts and recovery. She also touched on Read It, Pass It On, which takes place in cafes throughout Renfrewshire this October. Participants can go to any of the designated cafes to pick up a copy of Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive and upon returning, write their name inside and pass it on.

Young songbirds Rachelle and Brittany Davies touched the audience with ‘Shout Out’, a dedication to their friend who took her own life in 2014. Their self-composed song is available on iTunes and has received Twitter support from musical legend Rod Stewart. The duo are raising funds for Young Minds, a child mental health charity. You can show your support for the girls on Twitter at @Rach_Britt.

In exploring this year’s festival theme, RAMH held their Passionate About Photography competition asking entrants to show what they are passionate about. Stephen McLellan, chief executive of RAMH presented awards for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners. The top entry was by John Joe Gallagher for his picture taken in Warsaw, capturing his enthusiasm for people photography.

Finally, Buddy Beat treated the audience to some hypnotic drum beats, performing an African piece. The talent and hard work of the group and their well-rehearsed music was a fitting end to a day about passion, mental health and community.

 

Written by Louise Marie Smith

Image by Stephen Rygielski

 

Feel Good Friday launched the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival in Renfrewshire. For full listings in Renfrewshire, featuring many of the artists mentioned above, please visit our events page.

I have a confession to make. I’m not a huge fan of physical theatre. I’m a word junkie. Language is what I love. So, I was interested to see how In Her Shadows, a piece of aerial and physical theatre that addresses one individual’s battle with depression and anxiety – conditions that often seem hard enough to articulate in words – would convey those struggles visually.

The piece begins with performer Rachael Macintyre shuffling on stage, shouldering a backpack which seems to contain the weight of the world, as we see projections (on a gorgeous scallop-shaped screen) of social situations that appear to overwhelm the protagonist. This is represented beautifully by the interplay of the two performers, as Debbie Robbins climbs on top of her co-artiste, conveying the crushing weight of a family meal at Christmas. In another scene, Macintyre’s chair is rocked from side to side by a gracefully squirming Robbins, showing how social anxiety leaves us unsteady, at sea, even in the simple act of enjoying a cup of coffee in a café. Robbins’ character serves as a personification of the mental turbulence that the protagonist shares her life with.

Frequently, Robbins seems to represent the mother figure that haunts this whole piece, shadowing Macintyre’s every move. At times she’s physically climbing on her shoulders – the ‘monkey on her back’ – while at others she’s curled in a spooning embrace as Macintyre lies in a foetal ball on the floor. There are also moments that see her climbing the sash or the rope, lording her control over the mind of the central character; she spins with the rope coiled around her middle as Ewan Macintyre’s portentous soundtrack peeks and crescendos, conveying an umbilical attachment that makes this relationship all the more confused and difficult to resolve.

But there is hope. At times the protagonist climbs higher, flying unencumbered by the daunting presence of the mother figure, the range of movement conveying those brighter, more hopeful days that her condition occasionally affords her.

And words do come, in the form of the astounding poem Today by Jenny Lindsay, which comes in a voiceover in the final sequence.  A rhythmic flurry of verse which hums along with sibilant intensity and plosive curses, rattling through a scale of good days and bad, by rating them 10 down to 1. It’s hugely effective as a summation of what we have just seen, an encapsulation, even a validation. And yet, for the previous 40 minutes, these sentiments have been performed with nothing but movement, music and visuals, with equal power.

Today I learnt a new language, a language full of vigour and candour, which beautifully portrays the hugeness of depression, and tenderly soothes and nurtures at the same time. In Her Shadows is fantastic. Words fail me.

 

Written by Tom Grayson

 

In Her Shadows continues its nationwide tour until Fri 23 Oct, with performances at The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen; The Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock; Platform, Glasgow; and Dundee Rep Theatre

‘Please do not think that I am suffering. I am not suffering. I am struggling. Struggling to be part of things, to stay connected to whom I was once.’

The highly acclaimed independent film Still Alice depicts the story of renowned linguistics professor Alice Howland as she and her family come to terms with her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Following the disease’s progression, the film explores not just what is lost, but also what is retained throughout the fundamentally human experience of dementia. The award-winning cast features Julianne Moore as Alice, Alec Baldwin as her husband, John, and Kristen Stewart as daughter, Lydia. The film has been praised for its authentic, unfeigned portrayal of Alzheimer’s, alongside its immediate and wider consequences.

The incredible sincerity pervading the film comes as no surprise when you consider those instrumental in its production: the novel on which the film is based, a New York Times’ bestseller, was written by neuroscientist Lisa Genova; and the screenplay adaptation was written and directed by Motor Neurone Disease (MND) sufferer Richard Glatzer and his husband Wash Westmoreland. It is clear that Glatzer and Westmoreland’s experiences with illness have informed Still Alice — it is raw and refreshingly frank, yet never over-dramatised.

For those interested in film, Still Alice is incredibly moving and faultlessly acted, with Julianne Moore’s performance deservedly winning her an Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe. For those dealing with a diagnosis, the fictional portrayal, though melancholy, is relatively realistic and informative, emphasising the gradual nature of the disease. For family members of those diagnosed, the struggles of Alice’s family are relatable and ‘human’, rather than unrealistically saint-like or heroic. And for anyone wishing to learn more about Alzheimer’s, Still Alice provides an honest and compassionate depiction.

Still Alice is a must-see; it educates and eradicates misconceptions, exemplifying film’s ability to explore difficult, and often misunderstood, topics like dementia.

 

Written by Nicole Bell

 

Still Alice is screening as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, on Tue 13 and Wed 14 Oct in Banchory and Perth respectively.

Later on this month, a response to Still Alice will form part of a short podcast series looking at the contribution the arts make to the representation and discussion of mental health.

In this superbly cast and acted production by Rapture Theatre, we see two men’s attempts to come to terms with their wives’ depression. But it soon unfolds that no one is completely immune to mental ill-health, and a refusal to acknowledge or address his own psychological struggles means that the titular 'Last Yankee', Leroy Hamilton, is equally responsible for the deterioration of his mind and his marriage.

Miller's preoccupation with protagonists in search of identity continues in The Last Yankee, set in an ever changing modern age, where expectations to succeed are based on the rules of the American Dream. We see two men with profoundly different values, which represent their own psychological problems when faced with the challenge of supporting their wives through their illnesses. These are men rendered powerless, searching for answers as to why their lives have not followed the path they had sought to pave.

One, Leroy Hamilton – a descendent of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton – is burdened by history and a famous lineage. Ironically, he shuns the American Dream for which his forefather laid the foundations, instead finding fulfillment with infrequent carpentry work and his search for ‘the spiritual’. The latter he describes as a way to ‘forget myself’ – a reference perhaps to the burden of being expected to live up to his ancestor’s achievements.

On the other hand, we have Frick, a self-made man, obsessed by appearances and the cost of everything. A pragmatic man fascinated by the causality of things. Their paths cross in the waiting room of the hospital in which their wives are being treated, as Frick ponders the factors that could have led to his wife’s depression. Neither man has the answer, as Hamilton describes his wife’s illness as ‘emotional’. He becomes angry when Frick focuses on how much he earns, and how his appearance belies his trade as a carpenter.

It is interesting how Miller uses carpentry – a vocation he himself followed – as the antithesis of a ‘successful’ career, or perhaps emblematic of non-conformity in the consumerist age that Miller consistently critiques throughout his work. In Death of A Salesman, Willy Loman refers to someone he perceives as unsuccessful in these terms: ‘Even your grandfather was better than a carpenter’.

Neither man is happy. Frick seems almost embarrassed by his wife’s condition, seeing it as a blot on their ‘perfect’ consumerist’s life that he is so proud of working hard to achieve. Hamilton is a more complex character who subscribes to a ‘money can’t buy happiness’ ethos, whose frustration lies in the fact that he can’t make his wife happy on a deeper level.

Miller does his bit to challenge the stigma of mental illness by presenting the depressive, Leroy’s wife Patricia, as perhaps the wisest character. She identifies her husband’s non-conformist tendencies and suspicion of society as the reasons for his own mental struggles. At one point Patricia says to her husband: ‘You’re 50 times more depressed than I am… because you’re scared of people, and that’s incidentally why you never make any money.’ This refusal to engage with our environment can lead to or exacerbate existing mental ill-health. Miller’s portrayal of a female character as a ‘steady ship’ recurs in The Last Yankee, and perhaps more powerfully here, using a character with a depressive illness as the lone voice advocating individualism.

In Death of A Salesman, Linda Loman, the protagonist’s wife, is a compassionate apologist for her husband’s extreme behavior, she is able to separate Willy’s emotional and psychological turmoil from his intrinsic character; she sees the good of the individual, she understands the importance of humanism. Meanwhile, Willy punishes himself for not living up to the American Dream. He has lost sight of his individual identity in the demands of a consumerist society, in which it is increasingly difficult to stand out. Measures of success never stand still, getting further and further out of reach.

There is never time for self-congratulation, to take stock of ones achievements, or even for self-reflection. As a result, Willy’s identity is buried, and this is the source of his suffering. Linda identifies this, and as he gets more ill, she demands that more ‘attention must be paid to such a person!’ A beaten man, Willy clings vicariously to the aspirations of his sons, hoping a final hope that their successes will reflect positively onto him.

We see that even in the 1990s, when Miller wrote The Last Yankee, he sought to reflect the confused and varied attitudes towards mental health that still existed, and the characters in the play represent the breadth of outlooks that still exist today. Patricia shuns medication and sees spirituality as her cure; Frick believes that the comfort money brings should defeat his wife’s depression; and Leroy understands, but struggles to find, the peace that true individualism would bring him.

The Last Yankee is an allegory of sorts that warns that mental ill-health can occur in spite of our best efforts to stay healthy. It warns that blanket value judgments on how best to treat mental ill-health are not always helpful; in making them we deny the essentialism and individuality of us all, as well as the fact that psychological disorders are as multi-faceted as the individuals afflicted by them. Acknowledging this is the first step to winning the battle.

 

Written by Tom Grayson

 

The Last Yankee is touring throughout Scotland until Sat 7 Nov, with 24 dates in total. Visit this page for full listings and to book tickets for all performances.