My name is Sarah and I am currently studying on the MA Applied Theatre programme. This placement module allowed me to work with a company within the field and I began on a project assistant role with a Manchester Based arts company. The work they do is fantastic, however due to issues with timing I had to make the decision to complete my placement with another project. I always like to see my work through to the end so this was a hard decision, however it highlighted to me the nature of working within this field and the challenges that many arts companies face on a regular basis so it certainly wasn’t a wasted experience.

My new placement was on a project titled Performance/Biography/Mental Health and I was allocated a similar role of Production Assistant. The project involved the use of performance to explore how personal experiences of mental health can be shared, and how these can be used to develop dialogue between artists, professionals and students within the fields of drama and mental health nursing. Through doing this the project hopes to challenge perceptions and provide an alternative method within mental health research and teaching that allows students to take a more hands on approach and engage further with their practice.

The project involved two performances. The first was called In Bloom which involved a monologue performance to drama and mental health nursing students, and then a hotseating and feedback session between the actor and the audience. The second was Mental which was an autobiographical performance by an artist who performs under the name of The Vacuum Cleaner, followed by a workshop in which he encouraged the participants to explore their own experiences of mental health through performance.

My main responsibility was to design and produce documentation for the project to create a legacy for it and to encourage further exploration and collaboration between the fields, as well as to be used as a teaching tool for future Mental Health Nursing Students.

An artist attended all elements of the project to document the work through drawings, and I then used this to create a 24 page booklet. Design is not something I was too familiar with so it was great to begin to learn a new skill, even if it did take me a while to get the hang of! My main challenge was trying to create a coherent account of the project so that it could be used in the future by students who hadn’t seen the performances, and whilst 24 pages sounds like a lot I had about four times the amount of drawings as I did space and so I had to try and ensure that the document was aesthetically pleasing but also told a story.

I think it is particularly important to document this project as historically mental health has such a huge stigma associated with it and as a consequence many people who have suffered from a mental illness find it hard to talk about their experiences. This project encourages engagement from both those who have suffered and those who are hoping to work within the field and I feel it will allow people to see the possibilities of using performance to encourage this dialogue and to challenge the stigma of mental health.

This placement has been thoroughly enjoyable; I have had the chance to attend the performances and workshops, meet the artists and participants, hear about other projects within the arts/science collaboration and develop new skills based around documentation, which will no doubt be key to much of the work I hope to pursue in the future.

An Example of the artwork by Paul Gent
An Example of the artwork by Paul Gent