Promoting suicide prevention and positive mental health through creative processes.
This video was produced for Smashing Times Theatre and Film Company as part of Acting for the Future, a project using creative processes of drama and theatre to promote positive mental health and suicide prevention with schools, universities, and the general public.
‘Smashing Times… has a deserved reputation for exploring social issues with sensitivity and in depth… the plays are true theatre, reaching out and embracing their listeners.’
The Irish Times
Acting for the Future uses participative drama workshops, professional theatre performances and post-show panel discussions with counsellors and clinical psychologists to promote positive mental health and raise awareness of suicide prevention with secondary schools, universities and community based youth and adult groups and the general public. As part of this project young people and adults develop a stronger awareness of the issues – positive mental health and suicide prevention – through a quality arts experience.
Acting for the Future comprises three main elements: a participative drama workshop for adults or young people; a professional theatre performance of Testimonies, consisting of a series of monologues that are presented and then followed by a post-show panel discussions with counsellors, psychologists and invited guest speakers; and, in keeping with best practice, a Support Structure is in place for all events. Each workshop and performance is attended by a counselling psychotherapist and Samaritans volunteers, who partake in the post-show discussion. Furthermore, the psychotherapist is available to talk in follow-up discussion.
The awareness-raising participative drama workshop is an introductory first step in raising awareness of a particular issue and is conducted by a trained drama facilitator working in partnership with a qualified counsellor. The workshop is designed by Mary Moynihan and Paul Kennedy, with advice from Joan Freeman, Pieta House and Karen Ward, Clinical Psychotherapist, as well as our panel of advisors. For information on Testimonies, please see below.
An information pack containing resource material for follow-up work and an Information Leaflet on Positive Mental Health and Suicide Prevention are distributed after each event. The presence of professionals from the field of mental health during the performances and workshops, the quality of the work and its success with young people are what make this project an example of best practice, as evaluated by Arklow Youth Mental Health Week 2013.
Acting for the Future is supported by ESB Energy for Generations Fund and Dublin City Council, and is implemented in collaboration with two partner organisations: the Samaritans and the Irish Association of Suicidology, with assistance from a Panel of Advisors consisting of people qualified in mental health, suicide prevention and counselling, who are recognised specialists in their field. The panel members are: Dr John Connolly, Irish Association of Suicidology; Dr Ella Arensman, Researcher, National Suicide Research Foundation; Maggie Hayden, Samaritans; and Karen Ward, counselling psychotherapist. For Smashing Times Theatre and Film Company: Mary Moynihan and Freda Manweiler. The counsellors for this project are Karen Ward, counselling psychotherapist; Eimear Burke, Counselling psychologist; Barbara Duffy, Clinical Psychologist; and Gerry Farrelly, psychotherapist. The project coordinator is Freda Manweiler who works with a team of artists and health practitioners including clinical psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors.
The professional theatre performance for Acting for the Future is the highly acclaimed Testimonies by Mary Moynihan and Paul Kennedy that consists of dramatic monologues adapted from the experiences of those who have lost loved ones to suicide, and from the experiences of those who have been through a suicidal crisis and survived. Each performance is followed by a post-show panel discussion with a counselling psychologist and invited guest speakers from the Samaritans and other organisations. Audience members are invited to discuss the issues raised by the performances. Testimonies consists of five monologues as follows:
A Day Out by Paul Kennedy tells the story of two friends in their twenties and their last day together. It is directed by Bairbre Ní Chaoimh and performed by Adam Traynor.
In One Breath, written and directed by Mary Moynihan, is a portrait of a woman in the eye of the storm, battling mental illness and how she finds ways to cope. It is performed by Evelyn Shaw.
Is There Anything We Can Do? by Paul Kennedy is a dramatic performance where a mother fights the spectre of suicide hanging over her family. It is directed by Ena May and performed by Margaret Toomey. The mother visits a counsellor as she tries to find answers to her son’s death by suicide.
Do Not Go Gentle by Paul Kennedy (premiered at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, November 2014) is performed by Gillian Hackett and directed by Bairbre Ní Chaoimh. The frailty and resilience of a woman’s response to marital meltdown is portrayed as she confronts the absurdity of her life in the context of the economic downturn.
If You Could Read My Mind by Paul Kennedy, the story of a young woman experiencing self-harm and what she can do as part of her recovery. Directed by Bairbre Ni Chaoimh and performed by Róisín McAtamney.
SUCCESSES AND ENDORSEMENTS
‘The actors have the gift of immediacy and authenticity and pull the audience in… credible and compelling… outstanding performances… crafted, nuanced, searing… the monologues (are) compelling… moving… this play should find an engaged and passionate audience for its sensitive storytelling.’ – Village Magazine
‘Smashing Times… has a deserved reputation for exploring social issues with sensitivity and in depth… the plays are true theatre, reaching out and embracing their listeners.’ – The Irish Times
‘This production and the discussion afterwards… is Theatre-in-Education at it’s Best.’
– Maeve Ingoldsby, writer and playwright
‘I always knew promotion of mental health was important but now I believe that it should be promoted even more and more workshops and performances like this should be available for everyone.’ – Student
Acting for the Future has received a daa Arts Award at the Allianz Business to Arts Awards, a GSK Ireland Impact Award, a Dublin Bus Community Spirit Award, and a National Lottery Good Cause Award in recognition of its work.
In 2013 as part of its mental health and suicide prevention work the company presented 19 performances of Testimonies followed by post-panel discussions to over 1,499 young people and adults involving 19 schools, universities and communities. The project was funded by ESB Electric Aid Ireland and HSE, run in partnership the Samaritans and IAS, and conducted in counties Waterford, Wexford, Tipperary, Wicklow, Dublin and Kilkenny to over 1,499 young people (1,304 Transition, 5th and 6th year students and over 195 youth and adults). We worked with a range of organisations including the Dublin and Waterford Samaritans, Arklow Mental Health Week, HSE Kilkenny, the Rathmines Pembroke Community Partnership and the Sea Change campaign.
Acting for the Future was independently evaluated as part of Arklow Mental Health Week in 2013 when the project was presented to four secondary schools, each session consisting of a performance from Testimonies followed by a structured post-show panel discussion consisting of a question and answer session where the young people were invited to discuss the issues raised. The panel included the actor who performed the piece, a senior clinical psychologist, a counsellor and a Samaritan volunteer.
The final evaluation stated that the project can be used as ‘an example of ‘Best Practice’ in how it was organised and delivered.’ It was stated that if every activity on mental health was hitting the same level as Acting for the Future then you would have a great week. According to the independent evaluation:
‘The first point to note and one that is consistent throughout the questionnaire responses was the high value that students gave to this session/event in its entirety… Approximately 90 per cent of students rated the session/event as either Good or Very Good… which, given the fact that this is a teenage target audience, was quite an accomplishment… This final table presents quite another impressive set of responses with approximately 95 per cent of students stating that as a result of attending the session/event they would now know how/where to seek help. . Overall these are an extremely satisfactory set of results from the point of an evaluation and based on these responses alone one can see that this can be used as an example of ‘Best Practice’ in how it was organised and delivered.’
Referring to the project and evaluation, Barbara Duffy, psychologist, Arklow Mental Health Week said:
‘The overall feedback was that Smashing Times was the most positively evaluated of all events, deeming it as the example of Very Good Practice!’
The following quote is from writer Maeve Ingoldsby who is endorsing the performances and the company:
‘Smashing Times approaches a difficult subject with honesty, integrity and sensitivity. “Testimonies” pulls no punches about the devastating effect of suicide and offers a non-judgmental insight into what brings people to consider it an option. The engaging monologues, though sad, are not depressing, but in a way life-affirming. This production and the discussion afterwards should be compulsory for all young people. It is Theatre-in-Education at it’s Best.’
The following are quotes from performances and workshops:
‘I am still in shock at how quiet and attentive they (young men) were to the performance. Some members of the audience came today to play pool and I told them about the performance of Testimonies and they agreed to take a look. They were told they could leave after the first monologue but they stayed and also asked questions in the post show discussion. I have never seen this group so attentive and quiet. They usually heckle people giving presentations. It was great to have the show here because suicide is such a prevalent issue in Ballyfermot, every young person in that audience has been affected by a death by suicide in the community, and to have the discussion afterwards with the panel members, I know it has helped them a lot. I was so surprised, but so glad, that they got so involved in asking questions and I know they have gotten a lot out of it. Presenting the show also brought young people in to the centre who would normally not come here, and as a result of the post show discussion I now know they want to be involved on a volunteer basis. It’s great. Please include us in future work plans. It is very impressive work!’
– Shane O’ Connor, Youth Worker, The Base, Ballyfermot, Dublin.
‘Having been involved with Smashing Times on their highly successful “Acting for the Future” I am still many years later in awe of Testimonies – the 3 mini plays they wrote and perform again and again for Irish communities throughout our island. 12 real life stories are woven together to allow the viewer to not only see but also understand what goes in the mind of those contemplating suicide and those left in the aftermath. The actors depict these harrowing yet also hopeful plays that are a true testimony to those whose lives have been cut short and those who mourn still. I applaud the wisdom of amalgamating the research material into 3 distinct and interwoven pieces. A young man tells of the last day of his best friend, a professional woman explains why she attempted suicide and an older mother comes to terms with her son’s death by his own hand. It is fascinating to watch the heartfelt reaction of the audience to each powerful piece. Yet again Smashing Times hit the target and create, educate and inspire so many. . . After each performance of Testimonies a panel of local experts are on hand to answer any questions that have arisen from the audience. In many ways this is the key point of the theatre pieces – an opportunity for people to speak out not just about what they have seen but often what they have witnessed in their families, among their friendships and in their communities. As one of a panel of Counselling Psychotherapists I have been privileged to have sat on many of these panels and am amazed by the insight and wisdom gained from their stories and the advice given by fellow panel members of local Samaritans and Counsellors and the actors themselves. In my 18-year career as a Counselling Psychotherapist the ability to respond to the audience’s questions, to ease their minds and give helpful tips on how to maintain a healthy mental state is humbling. Smashing Times and their magnificent work are to be applauded and funded generously. This is life saving work and needs to continue for the health of our people especially our youth.’
– Karen Ward, Clinical Psychotherapist
‘We believe that drama is an extremely effective way of giving teenagers permission to ask some very real questions on the ever expanding issues that surround suicide and self-harm. Using dramatic personalisations means that people can focus their questions and thoughts on the actor’s character rather than on their own personal experience, thus allowing for more open and wide-ranging questions. The monologues are extremely effective in expressing the multitude of feelings experienced by those bereaved by suicide and of those with suicidal thoughts. It is very important that they continue to run in schools, youth clubs and theatres around the country.’ – The Samaritans
To date performances and post-show discussions have been attended by third level students from Trinity College, Dublin; UCD; Maynooth University’ and Dublin Institute of Technology and by a range of second level schools throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland and feedback includes:
‘It was deeply moving and so touched me in a deeper way that helps connect with humanity and feelings of love.’
‘I always knew promotion of metal health was important but know I believe that it should be promoted even more and more workshops and performances like this should be available for everyone.’
‘It showed a more realistic situation and offered information on what to do.’
‘I though that having the counsellors there explaining their work and experience really helped our understanding.’
Past events include involvement with the Dublin Samaritans for Suicide Awareness Week in the Axis Theatre, Ballymun, to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th 2010; and performances for schools in Arklow as part of Arklow Youth Mental Health Week which was officially opened by Mr. John Maloney, former Minister for Mental Health and Disability.
In March 2010 Smashing Times were delighted to be asked by the Abbey Theatre to present an Acting for the Future workshop in conjunction with the Abbey Theatre’s production of Thomas Kilroy’s Christ Deliver Us. The workshop was attended by the director Wayne Jordan and the writer Thomas Kilroy.
‘It was the best workshop I have ever been to in my life. Thanks to you all there and the great work you do.’
– Workshop Participant, Abbey Theatre, Dublin.
‘I thought Smashing Times did a very good job. . . . the day left everyone with a lot of food for thought, and pushed everyone in ways that were very good. I’d definitely work with them again, and would encourage others to do so.’
– Patrick Lonergan, for Abbey Theatre, Dublin.
‘Smashing Times is a wonderful endeavour and I wish you well with all your future work.’ – Thomas Kilroy, Playwright.
Feedback from young people and adults on performances and workshops:
‘Really made me think.’
‘Serious things young people have to deal with.’
‘The actor was great – very emotional performance made it real.’
‘We’d love more stuff like this!’
‘I felt as if he was really speaking to me.’
‘Very important to think and talk about it.’
‘The performer was deadly!’
‘This is the first time we’ve had something like this here. It was great.’
‘I really enjoyed it and felt that it was very helpful to me…thanks for coming along and giving us this opportunity.’
‘I had a lot of fun. Thank you and come back to visit us.’
‘I really enjoyed it.’
‘It was brilliant, I love it.’
‘Loved it – excellent.’
‘It was very fun and interesting. I enjoyed it and would take part again.’
‘I had a brill (sic) time and programmes like these should be brought into every school.’
‘I though it was great, it was a brilliant experience and will stay with me for life.’
‘I think using drama to discuss important issues is a good idea because it has a greater impact when you see things happen than when you hear of something.’
‘Well Done, it was excellent, very, very, moving.’
‘I felt that this workshop was excellent as it dealt with a serious issue in a positive and light way.’
‘Thank you, I really enjoyed it.’
‘I thought the workshop was a great help to me.’
‘Thanks for the information about mental health and suicide prevention.’
‘I like the idea of looking at serious issues in a creative way. Somehow that approach seems less intrusive.’
‘I thought it was brilliant because we all had to work as a group and help each other.’
‘I enjoyed it very much and I think it was really fun. There were so many activities that we have learned, how to concentrate and how to trust each other.’
‘The techniques that were taught made me feel more confident about myself and made it easier for me to talk in front of a large crowd.’
‘I thought the drama workshop was very good, I really enjoyed the trust exercises and I felt really relaxed and was really able to put all my trust in the other person.’
‘I thought it was a great experience and I was glad to be part of it.’
‘The performance was excellent and the young men could really relate to the content of the monologues. We want to say that we really appreciate the involvement of Smashing Times Theatre in our school and in particular with our transition years, and we hope this work continues.’
– Secondary School Teacher
‘This work is excellent…we don’t do enough emotional training (in schools) and that is why drama is so important, particularly for young people in schools.’
– Secondary School Principal
‘The Department of Education, they should fund this show to go into every school in the country, it is excellent and extremely important.’
– Audience Member
The issues surrounding suicide are sensitive and sometimes difficult to talk about. However, difficult or sensitive issues can be raised, explored, and highlighted in a creative way through the medium of drama and theatre. This project is innovative in that it uses drama and theatre as artistic and creative processes in their own right and makes use of those processes to raise awareness of specific issues. Drama and theatre are powerful and accessible mediums for dealing with such a sensitive subject and evaluations indicate the ongoing success of this project. Smashing Times Theatre and Film Company continues to receive a great response to this project and a high demand from schools and organisations for the workshops and performances.
Smashing Times Theatre and Film Company
Tel: + 353 (0) 1 865 6613 Tel: + 353 (0) 87 221 4245
Fax: + 353 (0) 1 873 5283