If the system is sick ….more than a pill is required

#23  Maladjusted by Theatre For Living (Headlines)


If the system is sick
….more than a pill is required


Theatre For Living (formally Headlines Theatre) works in communities using a variation of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed technique. A topic is explored through community engagement, people connected to the subject matter shares stories and thoughts. That information gets boiled down in a workshop setting and then a cast is chosen to help create a play. The casts are often real people and not actors.


The play is about the mechanization of mental health system. People are compartmentalized for ease of care. Treatment cases are decided not on individual needs but on what box people fit into.


Danielle (played by Micheala Hiltergerke a survivor of diagnostic labeling and treatment) is a rebellious teenager who is still reeling from the death of a classmate. She skips class and is moody. Mom (Khoal Marks who has struggled with mental health issues) is concerned but because she has her own stresses she just wants her happy child back.  She finally takes her Dr. Paul Devreaux (played by former academic and administrative psychiatrist Pierre Leichner), who based on her answers to a questionnaire and a short interview immediately prescribes her a series of medication.


Jack Richards (played by Martin Filby who has lived on the street) is a homeless schizophrenic who on the advice of his over worked social worker Abby Neill  (played by youth counselor Erin Arnold) agrees to take a bed in a recovery home for addicts, he just has to say he is one and he gets a roof over his head. When he arrives the group home coordinator (Sam Bob) confiscates all of Jack’s medication.


It’s not long before Danielle is lost in a haze of medication and Jack has an episode without his. The path both young people are on gets increasingly desperate and dangerous. The end of the short play is quite distressing and your heart yearns not only for the youth but also the misguided and stressed out people trying to help them not recognizing that they are actually making it worse.


But the experience is not over. Artistic/ Managing Director David Diamond comes out and tells us they are opening up a dialogue. They are not looking for solutions necessarily but an exchange of ideas. They will re-start the play and whenever someone sees a character in a struggle they can yell, “stop” and with Mr. Diamond’s help the audience member steps into the play to try to change the situation. The only rule is you can’t ‘magically’ them, take away their work load or stress, give them lots of money or unlimited resources.


Each time the audience member is allowed space to interact with the other actors and after a time Mr. Diamond steps back in. He asks the audience member if they accomplished what they had wanted to accomplish. He asks the actors what would happen next had they situation really happened. He also asked if what was offered was plausible. Some times we fixed a small part of the bigger problem and sometime we couldn’t.


The audience was a mix of regular theatergoers, some mental health care workers, and some patients. The passion and pain and hope for change was palatable and the real issues were held up and examined. There was no feel of a documentary or lecture though, just real emotions, real stories inspired by real people.


That’s unique, important and powerful theatre.


Until March 24th




Diversity Casting Tally Sheet 2013
Art holds a mirror up to our world, and in our Canadian society – in most urban centre the “visible minority” is at about 52% while most theatre (also found in most urban centers) is still all Caucasian. So here is a running total that will be updated with each show I see this year.

# of Plays            Total Actors                         # Diverse            Plays with Diverse Casting
31                         195                                             36                        14

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