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Feedback on Oxford Mental Health Workshops

From Amy Perkins

Dear Radha (and everyone at CCDC!)

........  I promised to give some feedback on the course you ran in June – sorry it’s turned into rather an essay!

Firstly – thank you so much to all of you for offering this course! It was such a good experience, and I got so much out of it, both in terms of my own confidence, and hopefully being able to pass on some of the exercises you taught us. The course actually took place exactly a year after I was really struggling with mental health issues last year, so it was a strange but productive time to reflect on both my experiences and how we might support other people who are experiencing mental health issues. The forum itself was such a memorable experience and one I will carry with me – I know you said that it was an unusual forum in terms of the amount of discussion over action (which is very Oxford!) but seeing such a large group of people at the university talking about mental health was so unusual and rewarding. One of my friends who came to the event has suffered from anxiety and bi-polar disorder throughout her time at university and campaigns for more mental-health support at the university. She found forum theatre a very interesting medium for discussing these issues and got a lot out of the event.

I feel like I gained a lot both from the forum itself and all the exercises and drama games you taught us. I’m not sure if I’ll be directing any time soon, but if I can’t wait to try out some of the games with other people. I especially liked the image work we did, which surprised me as I started off not liking it and finding it really difficult. I struggled for a while with the tendency to just produce clichéd images, but it was really amazing the way we were able to move beyond that, especially in the image exercise we did on ‘vulnerability’, and how much we were able to communicate without words. I’d love to know more about image work and how it might develop if there was more time to work on it exclusively – if you have any reading recommendations specifically about image theatre that would be great! Other moments that really stand out for me are the bus forum (a wonderful introduction, which I’d love to introduce other people to) and the Columbian hypnosis, especially the first ‘forum’ intervening to save the ‘oppressed’ from the ‘oppressor’ during the hypnosis exercise.

Actually putting the forum play together was something I found a lot harder, right from the start when we divided into groups and began to turn our images into short plays. I was wondering if in most forum theatre situations there would be more time spent putting the play together, given that we only really had a day or two? At times the process felt a bit rushed (possibly because we all worrying if it would ‘work’?) – if there had been more time would we have done more exercises in character and development? However, it felt like we created a positive environment in which to share and discuss, even having known each other for such a short time. It was great to work with a group so keen to portray a real experience and get it right.

The forum itself however was a really cool thing to be part of, even if there were less interventions than is usual. I think a part of all our anxieties was performing something that was real, stripped back and not set up to be ‘entertaining’ in the same way as other performances I’ve been part of. I was really scared that the ‘reality’ of the situation would not come across to the audience, so it was rewarding to find that it really did. I had some great conversations with complete strangers after the performance saying they had identified with my character, felt that the emotion of the play way real and had identified with various aspects of the play and the characters’ situations!

I tried to keep this email relatively short, but that’s not quite worked out – I think I had more questions written down, but I’ve left them in my notebook which is still in the UK! I’ve been looking at the reading list recommended on the CCDC website, so I’m really looking forward to doing some more reading on theatre of the oppressed.

Good luck to you all with the projects you are working on! Radha and Ravi you told me about the your plans to train more young people to be jokers, as well as running more long-term forum theatre projects in schools – I look forward to hearing all about what you are all doing, and I’d definitely love to visit next year and see your work first hand.

All my best to all of you,