Talking Heads reporter Colin MacGregor previews Geez a Break Productions' If I Forget to Remember, which has already received a five star review at its premiere at East Kilbride Arts Centre and has further dates at Bellshill Cultural Centre and Rutherglen Town Hall.
‘It’s a small world’ is an often used cliché in this day of modern media platforms but one I found myself muttering just the other night. I had been in an online discussion with a gentleman named Ross McAree, who I discovered co-runs Lanarkshire-based Geez a Break Productions.
Where does ‘it’s a small world’ fit in? Well, I had made plans to go along this Saturday to the Bellshill Cultural Centre to review a play for SMHAFF called If I Forget to Remember and guess what the production company behind it is – that’s right, Geez a Break Productions – and Ross is a producer and actor for the play. Small world, eh?
Well it doesn’t end there. Through talking further, I discovered that his co-founder and co-producer is none other than Liam Lambie, someone I am acquainted with through his past work and have very much grown to admire.
Liam and Ross are no strangers to SMHAFF, having produced the highly acclaimed play Lanes and Doorways for last year’s festival, which told the story of a group of homeless people living on the streets of Glasgow.
This year’s contribution If I Forget to Remember highlights the plight of a family as they deal with the heart breaking preparations for their mother who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's at the age of 52.
The play has already performed at East Kilbride Arts Centre and the news that filtered back to me was that it was a glowing success. It has already received a five star review in the local press and audience members have informed me that it received was a standing ovation.
By all accounts, If I Forget to Remember is a rare combination of humility, dignity, and humour, as the audience are lead on an emotional and heartfelt journey. I must also add that I have been told that hankies are a necessity.
Liam is a writer, director and producer who I will continue to follow in the future. His past works have been wonderful pieces that enthral an audience and If I Forget to Remember promises to be yet another notch that secures his impressive reputation.
by Colin MacGregor
Maggie Patterson : Jacquline Gilbride (Take the High Road)
William Patterson : Victor Kennedy
Katie Patterson : Sarah Beth Brown
Scott Patterson : Ross McAree (also Co-Producer)
Daniel Patterson : Liam Lambie (also Writer, Director and Co-Producer)
Jackie Owens : Amy Montgomery
Tall by nature but little by name, comedian Gary Little is not afraid of broaching any subject if it makes a positive difference to just one person. Ahead of his upcoming tour, he spoke to Talking Heads reporter Anne Austin about his thoughts on comedy and mental health. Described by Kevin Bridges as ‘some of the best stand up’ he is ever seen, Gary's new show A Little Bit of Personal is sure to have the crowds laughing, talking and thinking.
Several well known comedians have spoken out about their own mental health experiences. Do you think there’s a connection between comedy and mental health?
There’s a couple of ways to look at this. Stand up brings stress and highs and lows. [First], there’s the stress, then if it goes well the highs, if not then it is the lows and disappointment. The job itself can bring stress and lows. Then again, 1 in 4 people suffer from depression, so there’s probably as many joiners going through it. But when you’re in the limelight, there exists this sad clown stereotype that doesn’t apply to the joiner. I don’t think this stereotype holds any relevancy – so many people suffer regardless of what they do.
How do your experiences of depression and being in prison come through in your comedy?
I talk about depression and being inside – it suits my style and I’m telling the funny stuff, obviously. That’s the good thing about the shit stuff that happens to you. It can be turned into a positive to tell people there’s still hope out there.
Do you believe comedy can play a part in helping people who are experiencing mental health issues?
Definitely, I have had people come up to me after shows and said how much they have appreciated it and said how often they think they’re the only one to have been in a particular situation. When they hear about me and we’re all laughing, it shows that there is hope and a future. I believe more time should be spent talking about mental health and taking the stigma away. I don’t know when the time will come that people can be open about it. The stigma is still there big time.
Are you concerned when doing stand-up about depression that you may cross boundaries and offend some people?
I’ve had people tell me that they have been offended by my shows. When I’ve asked them what offended them, they replied that they didn’t know. I tell stories about depression, my mum dying and being in prison. When people hear certain words they often jump to the offensive conclusion without considering the whole context. I tell my life stories. I am laughing at my experiences and no one else. It is a Scottish thing, perhaps a working class Glaswegian trait that by nature we self-deprecate. Someone will find something funny whereas someone else will find it offensive. What are the boundaries? It is subjective.
Do you believe celebrities talking about their own mental health issues helps?
Anyone talking is good and the big names get it on television. However, I don’t know how much the guy or girl sitting in their house watching Stephen Fry talking about his experience will help. Getting people talking generally is important and with so many folk experiencing depression, you’d think there would be more acceptability. It seems hard for human nature not to judge and hold onto what their own perceptions are.
by Anne Austin
Thu 20 Oct, 8pm
East Kilbride Arts Centre, 51 Old Coach Road, East Kilbride G74 4DU
£10 | 01355 261 000 | SLLCBOXOFFICE.CO.UK
Sat 29 Oct, 8pm
Behind the Wall, 14 Melville Street, Falkirk FK1 1HZ
£10 | 01324 633 338
Mon 31 Oct, 8pm
The Stand, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow, G3 6NG
£10 | 0141 212 3389 | THESTAND.CO.UK
Monday 10 October was World Mental Health Day and on the University of Stirling campus there were a whole range of activities to get students to think about mental health in a positive way. Talking Heads reporter Andrew Revill has recorded his account of the day using words, photographs and video.
Members of the Students’ Union, led by Union President Dave Keenan, took over the Atrium in the Andrew Millar Building to ask students for a moment of their time to think and talk about mental health.
There were a variety of stalls that invited you to take part in simple, fun activities that not only allowed you to relax and unwind, but also to engage in conversations about mental wellbeing.
I began with some colouring in, something which I had not done since I was in primary school, and had completely forgotten how much fun it was. This table was visited by many students, who had some time between classes to join in the activities, and led by the very friendly and creative Linda McCulloch of Unity Group and Lesley Anne Derks of Artspace.
Next I visited the Play-Doh! table, and got chatting to Artlink Central’s Artistic Programmer Catherine Findlay about the event, as well as her own personal experiences with anxiety and depression.
I also spoke to Bethany Avery of the University of Stirling’s Mental Wellbeing Society. They were staging a photo booth encouraging people to take a selfie with an item of yellow clothing on or holding a yellow prop, (think rubber duckies!) to then share on social media with the hashtag #HelloYellow.
The final stall was a photo booth of a slightly different kind. Sebastian Lawson-Thorp, a former student and founder of the Relief Café, was running his #PledgeWithAPolaroid campaign.
The campaign involves getting students to have their picture taken on a Polaroid camera as a way to show their support for ending stigma related to mental illness. He described it as “something instantaneous but also lasting”.
Sebastian’s pictures were then displayed in the Pathfoot Building on campus, alongside artwork from Artlink Central, some of which you can see here.
The exhibition, which runs until 31 October, was launched by The Treehouse Gang, a therapeutic singing group led by Gareth Perrie, also of Artlink Central, which had also performed earlier in the Atrium. Here is the Gang’s rendition of traditional folk song ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’.
by Andrew Revill
Time and Artspace Time is a joint exhibition held at The Art Collection in the Pathfoot Building at the University of Stirling Campus. It is open daily from 9am-5pm until 31 October and is free to attend.
She is Fierce invites you to come and experience Wonderland in Edinburgh Castle's Great Hall, celebrating the creativity of young women with the magazine's contributors. Talking Heads reporter Kirstyn Smith spoke to founder Hannah Taylor about how She is Fierce supports young women and what to look forward to on the night.
She is Fierce is more than a magazine – it’s a way of life. In its own words, it’s a collective for girls with messy hair and curious hearts, as well as a publication for them to share stories and experiences, and develop a creative portfolio. Encouraging, positive and relentlessly supportive of young women in a world which isn’t always kind to them, She is Fierce is filling a void that desperately needed to be filled.
At the centre of these curious hearts is Hannah Taylor, founder of the magazine and mum to a fierce young girl who inspired her to shake up the teen magazine market.
‘I think She is Fierce offers an opportunity for young people to explore different avenues about what makes them happy,’ she says. ‘Hopefully, in turn, that will help them. We are the opposite of mainstream media which just concentrates on celebrity culture and makeup and all the rest of it. She is Fierce is something a bit more inspiring.’
She’s not wrong. Founded only a year ago, issue Minus One was a roaring success and the big one, Issue One proper – the Wonderland Issue – drops at the end of October. To celebrate, they’re throwing a big old party, at Edinburgh Castle no less.
‘It’s an awesome opportunity for us,’ Hannah says. ‘I would never have expected to be able to party at the castle!’
For She is Fierce, Edinburgh Castle is opening its doors for supporters and curious types to learn more about the magazine. The event will also showcase some of the people who have contributed to the first issue and Hannah is psyched to show off the wealth of young talent that is out there.
‘It’s a bit of an eclectic mix! We’ve got a young aspiring poet called Aischa Daughtery who’s coming along to recite the poem she wrote for us. We’ve also got the two young ladies who run Pyrus, a florist with a twist. They both studied fine art, then somehow fell into floristry and now they combine their love of fine art with floristry to create these amazing installations. We also have local fashion designer (and all round general badass) Emily Millichip MC'ing the event for us, plus Rebecca Monks performing spoken word.’
‘Hopefully it’ll be a really cool, chilled, laid-back event to show off the diversity and the creative girls that we’ve got in the magazine,’ Hannah says.
Happening as part of SMHAFF, the event is doing a lot to highlight the importance of mental health in young people, and particularly young women.
‘I think She is Fierce is providing a creative outlet for young people, which I think is really important when it comes to their wellbeing,’ says Hannah. ‘We’re trying to highlight the fact that your teenage years are the most important of your life. Although you should be having a heap of fun, there’s actually a lot of pressure on young people.’
A recent study from the Scottish Health Survey, corroborates this view. It found that women aged 16-24 have ‘significantly lower’ levels of mental wellbeing than other age categories, as well as higher levels of self-harm. This is something particularly worrying to Hannah, and something she is taking into consideration every step of the way with She is Fierce.
‘Your teens are the time of your life when you’re making the biggest decisions. Young people should take care of themselves, be gentle with themselves and not give themselves too much of a hard time.’
by Kirstyn Smith
She is Fierce takes place on Thursday 20 October from 7pm–9pm in the Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle. Ticket information can be found here.
8-year-old Mujtaba squints into the camera, head slightly tilted, smiling shyly as his uncle takes the photo. The mobile phone camera then shakily pans out and we’re in a bleak expanse of sand and rock at the side of an overcrowded jeep of refugees, halfway through a journey from Afghanistan to Germany. Mujtaba appears on screen several times #MyEscape: stumbling across a desert landscape in a group of men twice his size; close-ups of his dark eyes full of premature knowledge; or curled up small in the empty fuel tank of a lorry making its way across a border. And then, later, hair styled, bright clothes, watching the footage on his phone in Germany, sketching out memories in pencil of things too traumatic for words.
‘We live in the age of the refugee, the age of the exile’, writes Ariel Dorfman, the Chilean-American novelist and activist. According to the UNHCR, in 2015 over 65.3 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced by conflict and persecution, 21.3 million of them refugees. The trouble with numbers, however, is that after the initial impact, the mind adjusts its sense of scale, as if to shield itself from what these figures actually mean. According to the Missing Migrants Project, 3,521 people have died or are missing in the Mediterranean so far this year, and, yet, after the media outcry around the Lampedusa boat disaster in 2013, in which 359 migrants lost their lives, regular updates about these mass drownings have ceased.
Against a backdrop of dehumanising political and tabloid rhetoric, #MyEscape draws attention instead to the intensely personal stories that make up this global crisis. As the hashtag indicates, this is a documentary for and by the Twitter generation, using footage filmed by refugees on their own mobile phones as they made their hazardous journeys to Germany – from Syria, Eritrea, Iran and Afghanistan – interspersed with hand-drawn maps of their routes.
Janine Dauterich, the film’s editor, emphasises that the protagonists of #MyEscape are young people ‘just like us’, chosen by the production team largely from social media posts and YouTube videos. Official terms may well be contested and confused – refugee, asylum-seeker, migrant, stateless person – but Janine points out that the German word is the same for all: ‘flüchtling, the one who flees’. There is a sense, watching this documentary, that vocabulary matters much less than the immediacy of individual experiences. These are children, students, reporters, doctors, musicians, who, through no fault of their own, have been uprooted and forced to leave everything behind, venturing into an uncertain future.
While Europe deploys high-tech surveillance and satellites to patrol its external borders, on the ground social media and technology are tools for refugees: a way for them to research journeys, working out which directions to take, which borders are still open, tapping into GPS to locate themselves in a new landscape. But the navigation is also psychological, bringing with them images of family from home and documenting the journey, watching it back later to make sense of how far they’ve come. And then they broadcast it, through social media and #MyEscape, inviting a global audience to bear witness.
We move with them across sun-scorched dunes of the Sahara, wide expanses of the Aegean, the jagged skyline of the Taurus mountain range, the litter-strewn fields of the Balkan Route, but rather than free movement, the journey often feels like another form of imprisonment, with closed trucks, locked rooms, the constant watchfulness of armed traffickers, long hours spent waiting for trains, dinghies, trucks and jeeps.
Uncertainty is a key theme of the documentary, relating to the many dangers encountered on the journey, but also to the life left behind and the future lying ahead. As Janine reveals, many of the protagonists remain in a state of limbo even now, waiting for documentation, allowances or family members, still stranded in camps a year after arriving in Europe, not yet ‘arrived’ in the full meaning of the word.
As reported by science journal Nature in October 2016, the extent of the mental health crisis facing refugees is shocking: the pre-migration trauma of war, violence, rape, forced labour, persecution, grief and torture, and then the psychosocial stressors not only of the journey, but also of arrival and survival in a foreign culture. Crucially, the countries receiving refugees are dealing with mental health crises of their own, the issue still largely taboo and services overstretched, and, although the WHO and the UN have produced a guide specifically aimed to address these challenges, it is clear that mental wellbeing, while so clearly central to people’s ability to adapt and function, is far from being a political priority.
Despite the initial promise of concepts such as Willkommenskultur, the international response now represents an overall failure of empathy. Although events occasionally shock us out of our apathy, such as the death of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi back in 2015, the trends currently gaining strength in Europe are worryingly those of right-wing populist movements: the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the Front National in France; and the Freedom Party - the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ) in Austria.
Disillusionment with the EU, uncertainty around asylum policies and the protracted nature of armed conflicts the world over all bode ill for refugees. Borders are being closed, walls built and camps cleared. And in the UK, while the Home Office makes public pledges about taking in more people and aiding resettlement, the reality is that appealing decisions by the immigration and asylum courts is due to become 500% more expensive, with the ‘return directive’ of deportation gaining more traction in this post-Brexit climate, as ‘security’ is increasingly promoted over questions of human rights and freedoms.
Still, despite the changing mood in Europe and the perceived failure of Willkommenskultur, #MyEscape nevertheless retains a sense of hope, ending with vignettes of the protagonists launched into their new lives. We see football teams, apprenticeships, language classes and Mujtaba playing in the snow. A particularly poignant moment is when 21-year-old Omar recalls arriving by train to Austria, where a loudspeaker announcement welcomes them in Arabic: ‘This was the most beautiful moment of the journey. It was the first time that we’d heard the word “welcome”’. And while the rise of the right casts a dark shadow over European politics, there are many who are doing good work. In Scotland, which has taken in over a third of all the Syrian refugees in the UK, numerous grassroots organisations are working tirelessly to support the new arrivals: Freedom from Torture, Refuweegees and The Welcoming, to name a few.
Part of the issue, Janine suggests, is that the people she really wishes would watch the documentary – those who condemn the refugees or see them as simply coming to take jobs or claim money – are precisely those who won’t. The sharing of stories and images – the ‘ripple effect’ as Tamara Van Strijthem from Take One Action put it in the post-screening Q&A – needs our participation if it is to enact real change. As with Amnesty’s recent Look Beyond Borders, in which people maintain four minutes of uninterrupted eye contact with refugees as a way of reconnecting with empathy, each of us has to be willing to open ourselves up to the experiences shown in #MyEscape, to engage with the stories they tell, and then go out and take action.
by Clare Blackburne
#MyEscape won the Human Rights Award in the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival's International Film Competition and the screening was co-presented with Take One Action. For full film listings, check out our film flyer.