Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your work and how you got into art?

I am a Cardiff based theatre director, performer and writer. As far back as I remember I always wanted to be an actress. I never felt I was able to express myself as a child and theatre felt more like home and that is where I have worked, from Chapter Arts Centre, to the Australian outback and home again to Wales.

I also live with Bi Polar, mainly experiencing depressive lows. A diary entry, written when I was 14, states “Felt so depressed and can’t stop crying. Cried all day. Must snap out of it.”   I was told was to “Pull yourself together and stop being so silly.” I just about managed to do that for about 30 years and then I disintegrated. Fortunately I have survived.

As soon as I was let out of Our Lady’s Convent school, answering an ad in Timeout for a Performer/Stage manager, I hit the M4 and headed to London to join Common Stock Community Theatre.  

Common Stock was the first community theatre company in London. I was 18, politically naive, and my idea of ‘theatre’ was a plush velvet kind of an affair with a stage. I felt as if I had landed on another planet, driving a WWI ambulance into South London ghettos to perform, required nerves of steel. This was a major turning point in my education, being part of this political, pioneering era of devised, site specific and physical productions. My work has been influenced by these experiences ever since.

Tell us about your work that has covered mental health themes

During the past year, my work as an interdisciplinary theatre practitioner has been focussed on how to portray the inner world of depression. The source of this comes from my family’s history of mental illness, resulting in my Father committing suicide, and my own break down whilst living in Australia.     Both my parents had been patients at Whitchurch Mental Hospital and I was a regular visitor.   I said goodbye to my Mother in the hospital, when I first left for Australia.

Moment(o)s of Leaving, March 2016. This was a site specific, immersive, multi-media, performance based production, within the grounds and wards of the now closed, Whitchurch Mental Hospital. It was both a representation of the history of Whitchurch and mental illness itself.

I felt that one way of lifting the veil off mental un-wellness was to physicalize it. The Moment(o)s collaborators (performers and artists) and I shared our experiences of mental ill-health and from the themes that emerged we experimented with physical performance to visualise this obscured condition, enhanced by projected films and composed soundscapes. I also used my personal artefacts, such as diaries, photos and letters to highlight my personal story and that of my Father’s.

What will you be exhibiting at the Welsh mental health arts festival?

The Hearth Gallery, Llandough: An exhibition of artists Catherine Lewis and Caroline Jones, response to Whitchurch Hospital whilst working on Moment(o)s of Leaving with artefacts from the Whitchurch Hospital Historical Society.

Wales Millennium Centre: Moment(o)s of Leaving installation in the foyer 21st -24th November.

The Weston Studio, 24th November: ‘Moments’ an intimate evening of personal stories, performed by myself, weaving together mine and my Father’s stories.

Why is this work important to you?

The stigma and shame surrounding mental illness still persists. I hope that by sharing my personal experience, through the medium of performance and installation, will help to lift the veil off this misunderstood area of our health. It is nothing to be ashamed of or be scared by.  

Why do you think it's important for Wales to have a festival like this?

I believe that the arts, in all it’s manifestations, is a powerful tool to unlock the stigma, help people to recognise and speak out about their illness and for those surrounding them to understand.

Illness of the mind is invisible. It is almost impossible to describe. Through the arts we can lift the veil and portray it in many shapes and forms. It can intimately speak to people and help those who experience it to recognise it.

What would your advice be to other artists experiencing mental ill health?

Pick up your pens, brushes, cameras and speak out.   Together we can all jump over the Wall!

 

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