One-woman show transforms depression into relatable art
Depression and anxiety, in its many cunning, baffling forms, can come over us with incredible force. The pain and shame can cause people to cloister themselves, seek numerous forms of therapy or endure the side effects of strong medication all in order to achieve some semblance of "normal." What unites these efforts is that they often occur in isolation, as a way to avoid being labelled as "crazy."
In alignment with World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10), artist and playwright Gail Marlene Schwartz tackles this very subject with her play Crazy, taking the darkest and most painful events of her life and turning them into art. The multidisciplinary, multimedia, solo performance uses raw honesty and humour to explore Schwartz’s 35-year journey through depression, anxiety and 18 therapists.
"Probably the biggest goal for me is to help break down isolation," Schwartz says. "So many of us go through pain that is not witnessed, that we feel is somehow shameful. Crazy is socially engaged art designed to raise questions, create a dialogue and bring people together."
Schwartz saw her first therapist at the age of 5, and while depression and anxiety followed her most of her life, it wasn’t until she found herself unable to function in graduate school that her advisor suggested she refocus her work on her illness instead of dropping out. Writing, moving and singing provided expression for her condition, and a video journal allowed her to record strong bouts of difficult emotions. From this therapeutic work came raw material that Schwartz later used to write Crazy.
The stigma attached to mental health issues keeps what is a tremendously personal journey in the dark, unexamined. In creating and performing her piece, Schwartz found herself challenging the taboo of questioning what is crazy and what is normal – who gets to decide, and how can telling these stories be therapeutic in itself?
In light of this, the Oct. 11 performance, moderated by Ella Amir of AMI-Québec, a grassroots organization committed to helping families manage the effects of mental illness, will be followed by a discussion. And Schwartz’s theatre company, Third Story Window, hosts a blog at www.thirdstorywindow.com where visitors can engage in discussion on the role of art in addressing mental health issues as a social condition, not just an individual one.
Crazy, One Woman’s Search for Sanity
October 11 only at Mainline Theatre (3997 St-Laurent Blvd.)