Mental illness survivors tackle discrimination through theatre

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Apr 18, 2014 - 4:56 PM |

Theatre of the Oppressed stages May 5 show

As a young person, Lisa Morris went through a bout of depression. She said experienced discrimination and was generally “treated differently” because of her diagnosis.

These days, Morris is the owner of Spark Consulting, which does creative arts workshops focusing on the topic of mental health.

Her early experiences with discrimination led to her interest in a dramatic form called Theatre of the Oppressed.

It was introduced in the 1960s by Brazilian director, artist and activist Augusto Boal, and involves actors depicting a scenario of oppression.

Audience members are then able to change the outcome of the scene so the oppression doesn't happen in the first place.

“It's worked on issues or racism and homelessness,” Morris said. “It's been applied to just about every issue of discrimination that is out there.”

In partnership with the Sudbury/Manitoulin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Morris is using Theatre of the Oppressed to examine the issue of discrimination against those with mental illness.

She's doing this in honour of Mental Health Week, which runs May 5-11.

Morris recently organized a group of mental illness survivors to form a Theatre of the Oppressed troupe, and they've been practising every week.

These rehearsals are all leading up to an interactive public performance May 5 starting at 5 p.m. in the food court at the Rainbow Centre Mall.

“I think it's a really good and unique tool to bring awareness,” Morris said.

Morris said one of the scenarios they've rehearsed involves a mental illness survivor attending a job interview. The interviewer is really positive about hiring the candidate until they spot a gap in their employment experience.

“The participant says 'I was off for depression during that time,'” Morris said. “The interviewer quickly wraps up the interview and dismisses the person.

“Last night, somebody stepped in and changed that scene and the person advocated for themselves and addressed the oppression and focused on their qualifications, and how they could do the job.”

Annette Larabie, who lives with bipolar disorder, is a member of the Theatre of the Oppressed troupe.

She said she's hopeful the theatre project will help convince the public not to have such a “judgemental attitude” towards mental illness.

“It gives me a feeling of elation, in a sense,” Larabie said. “It makes me feel that we're getting somewhere.”

The manager of administrative services for the Canadian Mental Health Association Sudbury-Manitoulin said she thinks the theatre project is a “wonderful initiative.”

“It's a very creative way of talking about something that's very difficult to talk about,” Chantal Makela said.

For more information about the project, phone the Canadian Mental Health Association at 705-675-7252 or Morris at 705-929-8406.
Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer


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