Good Practice for Programmers

Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2022 © Ingrid Mur

As part of our Performing Anxiety project we are developing a good practice guide for making creative work about mental health, drawing on conversations with over 30 writers, performers, directors, producers and programmers who have professional experience in this field.

We are updating these guidelines in response to feedback, so that this resource can evolve as we continue to learn. If there are things you think we’ve missed – or that we’ve got wrong – contact Andrew Eaton-Lewis at smhaf@mentalhealth.org.uk.

The first thing to ask about is ‘how’s this going to work in terms of access? Is this going to be safe for this person? Are you willing to commission somebody who might, three hours before the show goes up, cancel it? Because that can happen. Are you willing to find ways of working that mitigate that? Are you willing to find ways of working that mitigate that,  that might mean that the show doesn’t look how you think it’s going to look?

Selina Thompson
writer-performer

I find the assumption with access needs is that people go, ‘Oh, yeah, I see that this person has these diagnoses, I see that these things can happen, but that’s not going to happen on this project with me. With me, they will work in a completely able-bodied way. And something I feel we have to keep doubling down on when we go into really early negotiations is how the worst case scenario will happen. You have commissioned me to make a work about a traumatic subject, a traumatic subject impacts me personally in ways that I cannot predict. It will be stressful and unpredictable. It will happen.

Selina Thompson
writer-performer

Is the space you’re planning to use appropriate for the material being presented? For example, how practical is it for audience members to leave if they need to without creating additional stress or disruption? Are you considering this when planning seating arrangements?

We’ve created this kind of new tradition where we sort of say ‘you’re welcome to leave at any point, and there’s going to be this content,’ but actually the tradition we need is, ‘right, this next bit is going to be about this, so this is your opportunity to get out of the theatre. It needs to be much more integrated.

Caitlin Skinner
CEO, Stellar Quines

Are you providing room after the event, or between events, that allows people a quiet space, and enough time, to process what they’ve just experienced?

You should put a lot of thought into how you are presenting and communicating trigger warnings. This can be challenging since there is some disagreement over the effectiveness of trigger warnings and how best to present them – there is evidence that trigger warnings themselves can be triggering – but Robert Softley Gale of Birds of Paradise suggested a compromise solution where trigger warnings are ‘available but not in your face’.

Someone told me they hadn’t been to the theatre for years because they were so scared of what they were going to be shown and how that might impact on them and that trigger warnings were their way of giving themselves confidence to go back to the theatre, and I absolutely get that, but also as a theatre-maker I want to be able to shock and offend and provoke and trigger warnings can make that very difficult. To me that’s where the balance is; you tell people it’s available, you tell people how to access it, but they have to actively go and get that and can do that if they want to. Some people will not read a review of a piece before they go and see it because they don’t want to know what a reviewer thinks or what it’s about, they want to experience it themselves. And we wouldn’t force people to read reviews.

Robert Softley Gale
artistic director, Birds of Paradise

I think one of the main things from a venue is human contact and support. I’ve always really appreciated it when the person that’s booked me has come to see me and said ‘how are you feeling, what’s going on?’ There’s a sort of disconnect between the emotional world of an artist and the receiving of marketing materials and talking about it like it’s just this commodity.

Bryony Kimmings, writer-performer

Just taking time to build relationships is such a simple thing to implement. Even just bi-monthly catch ups from the point of booking that then increase the closer you get to the date.

Robyn Jancovich Brown
producer

How do you make inhospitable places feel as safe as being in your bedroom or your living room? What are you going to offer me in terms of solace and care?” Because if someone came and stayed in your home, you would do that.

Bryony Kimmings
writer-performer