Self-harm is something which everyone knows about, but, due to the suffocating taboo surrounding it, people rarely understand it. As society generally brims with people not questioning, or, more importantly, not wishing to question, this serious and widespread issue, the immensity of the problem only grows. So why then, at this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival, was an evening of performance based around self-harm able to bring joy to all present?
Performed at Stereo in Glasgow, Out of Harm brought together four participants, confident enough to share their stories with a room of strangers, a startlingly brave endeavour for anyone, particularly when coupled with the creativity and genius they displayed as they shared their own written pieces.
Arriving at the event, I was admittedly somewhat nervous and unsure about what to expect. But all nerves were torn out from the instant that the first performance began, as I and the whole room were drawn in. From poetry to photography to acting, it brought shock, honesty and laughter out of everyone, in both an intense and wonderful display.
What was particularly notable was how, through the deliberately varied mood of the performance, entertainment managed to stay at the foreground, even as the importance and weight of the topic never lifted.
The biggest question that the entire event posed was how this difficult subject, which is so feared by society today, could bring such consistent joy and entertainment to a company of strangers. The most important point the project is trying to get across is that we, as a society, should be talking about self-harm, and ultimately need to be talking about self-harm and making clear the facts about self-harm.
Managing so successfully to use this topic to talk to, educate and entertain a room of people highlights the modern day difficulty we usually have in addressing and understanding the subject. The greatest harm being dealt to the subject is the silence of society, which indirectly silences those with experience of it. The topic needs not to be silenced but opened, so that those suffering can also open up.
The potential brought out in these performers’ shows how this topic need not always be treated in a negative way. Instead, it can be used as a platform for us to recover, with the confidence in and help from one another to bring out the best in who we are.
The great education and entertainment that this event has brought to me, as an outsider, is something that I’ve not just enjoyed, but have to feel very grateful for. It has further taught me that to share this feeling with others, both to positively alter the image of self-harm today and to benefit other people’s educated views on the subject, may be a far easier and more harmless task than first thought.
by Callum McLean
Talking Heads reporter Andrew Revill attended the Big Peace and Jam at Recovery Fest in Renfrewshire, taking photographs, recording performances and even taking the opportunity to join in himself.
As an amateur guitar player, I attended this jam with Paisley Guitar Club and the Buddy Beat with not a little bit of nervousness about my standard of playing in comparison to the talent that was performing at the Sunshine Recovery Cafe.
The Paisley based guitar group kicked things off with a few songs played together on acoustic guitar, before the Buddy Beat took up centre stage with a few drumlines that encouraged the whole audience to get involved. The session was then given that extra bit of class by a local solo guitarist and singer.
With such a display of talent on show, I was afraid I was going to find it difficult to engage with the group when it came time for the Big Jam. What right did I, a self-taught amateur, have to stand up, plug in and play along with people who clearly knew what they were doing? Moreover, how was I going to keep up with them? What if they played in a key I didn't know, with chords I didn't know? What if I played a wrong note and wrecked it for everyone?
Well, after dodging around at the back gathering some photographs and hitting record on my Dictaphone to gather some evidence that I had at least been along and watched, I am pleased to say that I did in fact summon up the courage and gave it a try.
I was helped in no small part by the general atmosphere of friendliness that enveloped the entire session. Every person in the Recovery Cafe that morning – whether they were a musician there for the Big Peace and Jam, busily making bacon rolls to dish out to the gathering audience, or a member of the audience themselves – made the event feel relaxed and fun.
So, enough talk from me. Here is some audio cut together of the different musical styles on offer, ending with the Big Jam with us all pitching in, myself gladly included.
by Andrew Revill
Find out more about the Talking Heads project here.
The double bill of The Box and Thinking in the First Person is proof that you do not need any set, costumes or fancy props to create a profound, emotive piece of physical theatre. In fact, it shows that dance theatre can speak a thousand powerful words. Talking Heads reporter Rosalind Roux reviews Thinking in the First Person, from SMHAFF Associate Artist Emma Jayne Park, and you can also read her review of The Box.
Created with support from Creative Scotland and mentorship from Jonathan Burrows and Jonzi D, Thinking in the First Person is an energetic piece of dance theatre performed by Cultured Mongrel (for the second time) at the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival. At the helm of this innovative, exploratory dance company is Emma Jayne Park, a self professed “social activist” and “mongrel”, to reference her talk on TedXPortobello. Park's work concentrates on “exploring the internal and external pressure in ourselves, that often conflict with each other”. This vision is very much alive in Thinking in the First Person, a contemporary dance and b-boying performance which questions “how self value can fluctuate when faced with constantly presenting oneself online?”
A tabula rasa, the stage is bare. The four performers wear black and have black masks painted on their face stopping just above the mouth. The soundscape of static, white noise is mirrored in the swift, sharp movements of the first tableau. Two performers standing close to one another, almost vibrating. It feels electric. Exploding with dynamic shapes and energy, this piece fills the otherwise dark, empty stage. Fluid yet jarring, there are moments of perfect unity that quickly crumble into contortions and combat-like interactions between the four performers.
Poignant, negative, internationally-recognised hand gestures, are the only definitive depictions of communication throughout the entire piece. Each one is short and sharp and performed with such vigour there is no denying the effect the gesticulations are trying to have. They are deterrents. One of these in particular, pointing right in the middle of the forehead, seemed to be alluding to the pineal gland (third eye). This could be as a reference to the inner workings of the mind, the evocation of mental images or the simply the wider psychological significance of the piece. If not, then it is just a coincidence that the interaction of each performer, buzzing and bouncing off one another on stage, is evocative of the movement of the very electrical signals on which our brains run.
Mass confusion, constantly changing dynamics, harrowing moments and robotic movements with a game-like quality repeat until white vests appear. Perhaps to be interpreted as representations of layers of personality traits or a more literal stripping of identity? Paired with euphoric music, the audience is lulled into a false sense of order, as each painted black face fades a little, only to be flung back into this game-like identity crisis. Any denouement of plot is left to the audience's imaginations, so, as you can see, the interpretations are never-ending. This creative depiction of struggle and the “consequences of perpetual self-editing” is a frenzied, intrusive, in-explainable expression which, if you have the opportunity, you should go and see.
by Rosalind Roux
Cultured Mongrel also toured Experts in Short Trousers, with support from Creative Scotland's Open Project Funding, as part of the Scottish Mental Helath Arts & Film Festival. For information on upcoming performances, visit their website.
Click here for Rosalind's review of The Box from emerging dance artist Julia James-Griffiths, the other half of the double bill at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.
Into Film is a UK wide organisation, supported by the BFI through Lottery funds, which helps educators to achieve effective learning outcomes in their use of film. Its programme includes free access to thousands of classic and popular films, curriculum-linked and enrichment teaching resources, filmmaking opportunities, educator training, a free cinema based youth film festival and annual awards. They offer a host of films and resources for using film to support positive well-being, and films are available free to all schools with an Into Film Club. Find out more here.
Our film curator, Richard Warden, recently spoke to Into Film as part of their 'Using Film to Teach' strand:
"10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental problem, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age. At the Mental Health Foundation we view our job with young people as two-fold: to support them with a wide range of long term and short term mental health problems and equally importantly to encourage positive mental health and well-being so that problems are less likely to develop.
"As Film Lead for the Mental Health Foundation and Film Curator for the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, I have witnessed first-hand the valuable role that film can play in supporting both aspects of this work. Film starts a conversation in a way that few other media can do; it encourages people to talk about issues they may feel uncomfortable with and evokes a response without having to dig. We're using resources like Mindreel, an online selection of films which have been submitted to our Festival since its inception in 2007 and can be used in different ways to explore a wide range of mental health issues. These are films which might not otherwise be widely seen but which contain valuable messages."
You can read the full article here.
The double bill of The Box and Thinking in the First Person is proof that you do not need any set, costumes or fancy props to create a profound, emotive piece of physical theatre. In fact, it shows that dance theatre can speak a thousand powerful words. Talking Heads reporter Rosalind Roux reviews The Box, a work in progress from emerging dance artist Julia James-Griffiths. You can also read her review of Thinking in the First Person.
Originally from London but now based in Scotland, James-Griffiths personally introduces the piece as an attempt to show “the struggle people have with depression and the feeling of being in confinement”. Humbly, she informs us that the seven scenes we are about to see are as yet unordered and unlinked, and to “bear with us” in the scene changes. It transpires that, although unfinished in the mind of the choreographer, the stark contrast between the black out scene changes and the powerful energy of each scene, present a juxtaposition and a disjointedness. My opinion is that this broken, stilted arrangement adds to the poignancy of the piece.
Whether preceded by unified movement, the intertwining of bodies and limbs, challenging floor work, frenzied tarantella filling the stage, heart breaking pas-de-deux or an escapology inspired chair dance, each scene ends with a blackout. Enveloped in pitch darkness, the audience is forced to face the raw emotions of what they have just seen unfold. In this moment, it would seem that James-Griffiths is forcing the audience to be in their own box, which enforces the feeling of being on an unpredictable rollercoaster. This is thought provoking and allows the viewer a moment to either, catch a relieved breath or dwell in the struggle they have just been witness to, whichever emotions have imprinted on them.
The ensemble is made up of three young women and one young man who have no defined characters. They dance as one unit, solo or each become barriers for the others, fighting, pummelling, straining against one another. This evokes, in me, the feeling of being unable to escape ones' own thoughts in a state of depression. Additionally, the piece presents a kaleidoscopic range of emotions and states; emptiness, struggle, contempt, confinement, numbness, disorder, exhaustion, resistance and damage were all conveyed without speech but through pushing and pulling, twisting and wrenching and embodying cycles which felt unbreakable. Tucked amongst these are fleeting moments of tenderness, care, protection and unity, only to be cut off with representations of rejection and hopelessness.
Every now and again, we are reminded of reality, the sound of a shop door opening, a wrangling bell, and these few moments help to frame the actuality of what is being portrayed. There is one seemingly false moment. The scene between a patient and a counsellor is played for laughs and stuck out as the only scene with speech. The majority of the audience appeared to take refuge in laughter and so minimised their discomfort. Unfortunately, this comic, almost slapstick approach, detracts from the serious and damaging nature of what we are seeing. Stigma from mental health professionals is a large part of the problem facing people struggling with mental health issues and is hugely influential in stopping people seeking help from local services.
The Box is an excruciatingly raw depiction of inner turmoil and the struggles of the human psyche. Exploring a variety of phases of depression, including counselling, psychiatric medication and relationships, James-Griffiths' work is undeniably evocative, whether you have suffered from depression yourself or not. A few audience members voiced in the Q&A that “there were moments I wanted it to stop”, which can be viewed as a gut reaction to experiencing serious discomfort from the plight they are experiencing, which is out of their control. In this context, to evoke such a strong response is the highest compliment to the choreography, as it would suggest these audience members have experienced a real insight into the uncontrollable and harrowing nature of depression. James-Griffiths and ensemble have created a beautifully raw, thought provoking and insightful performance, which I would urge everybody to go and see.
by Rosalind Roux
Click here for Rosalind's review of Thinking in the First Person from SMHAFF Associate Artist Emma Jayne Park, the other half of the double bill at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.