Balancing Acts is a theatre and film production that explores the delicate art of living with depression. Produced by Feral Foxy Ladies and Kaleido Film Collective, the five tales are performed by Katherine Vince, and it received a great review from Mental Movement’s Ruth O’Brien when she saw it at the Vaults.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend their recent workshops, where just under twenty individuals gathered together to use the process of verbatim theatre to create a piece of theatre in an afternoon. It was powerful, and intense. Verbatim theatre uses the words from individuals as the basis of its story. It acknowledges them, validates them, and crucially does not change them. The personal stories become the start of something universal and creative, but remain very particular and real.
The experience of discussing such sensitive and potentially traumatic feelings with a group that I ha never met was unnerving, but strangely wonderful. Mental illness is shifting, difficult and hard. The workshops do not make it any easier to pin down and ‘fix’ but they do offer that very human need for connection and creativity. The power of seeing our work on stage in such a short time was only a bonus.
But as with all art and creative endeavours, we can ask just what their point is? This is particularly pertinent when the subject is not that of light relief and fun, but heavier. There’s been criticism for example that works such as Boy and I, Daniel Blake are ‘poverty porn’ watched only by middle class Guardian readers, and the same concern of romanticising of mental health has been raised. It’s not always clear of the role of art that explores mental health. Is it about catharsis and therapy for contributors, education, awareness and entertainment for the audience, or something else entirely?
Katherine from Feral Foxy Ladies believes that it’s all of these, and more. ‘Engaging in the creation of and watching theatre can enable catharsis, education, raise awareness, and be therapeutic by allowing the participant or audience to engage in this process of awareness. It is also important, no matter what the subject matter, that when producing a performance we provide engaging entertainment because this is what enables spectators to escape into the world/s of the show.’
Professor Maggie O’Neill, looking at the role of art for refugees, wrote in 2008 that ‘Art makes visible experiences, hopes, ideas; it is a reflective space and socially it brings something new into the world—it contributes to knowledge and understanding.’
What the Balancing Acts workshops showed is that this external contribution an informative, whilst valuable, is not and should not be the main goal. Instead it is about the person experiencing the difficulty, and the value of art to reframe, explore and communicate that.
As facilitators they are acutely aware of the necessity of keeping participants feeling safe and comfortable, for their own wellbeing and to enable creativity. This process allows everyone to ‘delve very deeply into emotions whilst supporting each other and feeling supported.’
The combination of film and theatre, drawing from real life experiences, is one that is tricky, but Feral Foxy Ladies and Kaleido believe that it’s valuable in order to guide the audience to certain images and conversations when most relevant.
‘We learned how amazing it is to create something that enables people to feel liberated and able to open up about parts of themselves that they said they wouldn’t usually divulge after watching the show, which is a power given through the aliveness of the art form.’
It was not just them who felt amazement and power through the process.
The team hope to take the workshops to schools, groups and communities around the country. If you are interested in supporting their work in any way, or just learning more, please get in touch with Feral Foxy Ladies and Kaleido Film Collective.