Throughout October we're running interviews with artists taking part in this year's festival. Here, poet and Flint & Pitch director Jenny Lindsay discusses the multi-act shows she has programmed in Paisley on 18 October and Edinburgh on 20 October.
What can we expect from your two Flint & Pitch shows at SMHAF?
A multi-act showcase of artists all responding to the theme of the festival, Reclaim. The showcase style is a great way to get a lot of acts on stage addressing mental health in different ways and in whatever way they see fit. The Edinburgh show was confirmed some time ago, but I was delighted when the Paisley event was offered too, thanks to funding from the Paisley 2021 Culture Events and Heritage Fund. Flint & Pitch prides itself on curating bills of new voices alongside established names, and I think both bills are testament to that. There are some gey unsung talents in Scottish live lit, music and spoken word and both of these bills have been programmed to bring different perspectives from some truly brilliant writers and performers.
Can you explain 'Reclaim this Script', the theme for both shows?
One of my most recent poems, ‘This Script’, is about gender; particularly the damaging rigidity of thinking about gender roles, which in many ways is even worse today than I think it was when I was growing up. As a woman and an educator, that poem came out of a deep frustration at this, as well as having started to experience the seemingly ingrained sexism that accompanies you as an older writer/ performer, certainly compared to when I started out in my late teens/ early twenties. That poem was a way to ‘reclaim this script’, for myself, at least; to say that we are NOT this script that is handed us since we’re old enough to hold a fork...
With the theme of this year’s SMHAF being ‘Reclaim’, I thought that it would make for a great show to have 5-6 acts all ‘reclaiming’ a ‘script’ of their own choosing; challenging a narrative they find harmful and detrimental to general well-being and/or good mental health; giving a different perspective on it through their creative work, whether that’s storytelling, provocation, poetry or song.
Can you tell us more about the performers?
Over the two shows we’ve got spoken word, music, collaborations, new work written specifically for the event, and also an excerpt from a long-form spoken word theatre show in Colin McGuire’s ‘The Wake Up Call.’ All of the acts have been given total free reign with the theme and I trust em all implicitly! I do know that you can expect a searing polemic from Denise Mina in Paisley and Vonny Leclerc in Edinburgh; new work from Janice Galloway; an exciting collaboration from New Voices act Ross McFarlane; brand new work from comedian/ compere-extraordinaire Sian Bevan, and much more besides. Themes I know are going to be covered include gender, sectarianism, masculinity, race, porn, anxiety… and if all that sounds too heavy, there’s also going to be plenty of odes to the power of a guid night’s sleep too. And a raffle. (Regular F&P goers will know the importance and hilarity of this to every F&P show….!)
How do you look after your own mental health?
I’m not going to lie - I struggled with this question - partly why it took me a day longer to send my replies than I had hoped! The honest answer is that I don’t, always. In fact, I can be fairly pish at it. Having ill mental health (my diagnosis, for what it’s worth, boils down to chronic depression and anxiety but with fancier names) is personal, always, but it’s also compounded by structural, societal and political issues, not to mention aforementioned sex and gender issues, and I guess when I’m swimming well through all of that it’s when I’m ensuring a healthy balance between work and rest, through meaningful leisure and productive work, through labour and creativity, avoiding abusing alcohol - something I’ve struggled with in the past - making time to read, to write, and to fulfil the needs of my own creative practice as well as grafting on events, making time for exercise (this is a work in progress - I’m very bad at this) and also ensuring that, even though I am a single, childless freelancer who works nearly entirely from home, that I am actively reaching out to pals and family for that human sustenance we all need for wellness.
Loneliness is excruciating. Our culture doesn’t make it easy to avoid it; we’re really pretty active at encouraging it across all spheres of life. It’s the flipside of the competitive urge our culture encourages and it’s horseshit. Letting go of the competitive urge is something that has helped me enormously, though that too is still a work in progress!
As much as social media is an absolute horror for mental health in many ways (unfollow everyone who twangs your ire, dae it, dae it now), I’m also a member of a couple of online groups that are an absolute boon to my mental health. Women I’ve never met but who have shared their own experiences and offered advice and pretty much unconditional support, and vice-versa, has been a totally brilliant thing to have over the last couple of years as I’ve been trying to work through a lot of murky trauma hangover, for want of a better phrase!
I am lucky to have been taught the emotional literacy that made me realise I had gone mad a few years ago (there is no other word for it that suits what happened, which I hid well) which led to me being able to seek assistance before things got worse. I have relatives and friends who have struggled far more by feeling they had to keep it all to themselves until they cracked under the weight of it all. I am lucky to have had support for each bout of mental ill health I’ve had, which has been a part of my life since I was 14 or thereabouts. Oh - and sleep. Proper sleep is a lifesaver.
I’m always wary of anything that ever comes across as a Buzzfeed style ‘Ten Ways To Improve Your Mental Health!’ style thing, most of which make me grind my teeth in irritation, but avoiding unnecessary competition, cultivating honest relationships with pals and family, finding some kind of way to avoid loneliness, and getting enough sleep are probably the main things I’ve been working on towards wellness, which aint an end goal, it’s a process that given the nature of things will likely be a constant.
What else are you up to at the moment?
Flint & Pitch wise, I’ve got a fair few events coming up over the next wee while. The one following Reclaim This Script is on 25 November and is a partner event with Previously… Scotland’s History Festival. It’s got the delicious title ‘The Dangerous Woman’s Guide To Transgressive Behaviour’ and features myself, Magi Gibson, Emma Pollock, Mara Menzies and Lucy Ribchester re-telling the stories of women from history who have been either misinterpreted, slandered, undermined or forgotten… I’m really excited to have been asked to produce new work for the show as well as invite other women to be part of it, and am currently working on a set of new work about Sonia Orwell, the much maligned second wife of George Orwell.
Tying in with ‘This Script’, which is a univocal poem (a poem using only one vowel - in this case ‘I’), I’m also working on a pamphlet length collection of univocal poems about gender and sex. It’s slow but very enjoyable work, like putting together a jigsaw, and I’m loving the process. I’m actively trying to make more time for it - it’s really intricate work!
In 2018, I hope to bring back the Flint & Pitch Presents series of full-length spoken word theatre shows I was lucky enough to gain funding for earlier this year, and also hope to complete my second full-length show, which is about teaching and is based on a 20 minute short I wrote for the Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Declarations’ weekend some time ago.
Apart from that, I’m also excitedly prepping for Reclaim This Script! I’m really, really proud of both of these line-ups, and the enthusiasm that every single act is bringing to the shows.
Book tickets for Flint & Pitch, with shows at Paisley Arts Centre on Wed 18 Oct, and the Bongo Club in Edinburgh on Fri 20 Oct.