An innovative Vancouver theatre company has been tackling the issue of mental health with its latest production, maladjusted. The interactive play is created and performed by patients with mental health issues and caregivers, and gives the audience a chance to weigh in on how the stories told will end. David Diamond, artistic director of Theatre for Living, says everyone involved in the production has experienced struggles with the “mechanization of the health system.” The 32-year-old theatre company has deep ties with mental health organizations and throughout the years has realized that the system was getting harder to deal with over time.
“Care was being harder to give, and get and we decided it was a good topic for a main stage project, since we do one a year” he explains.
The result is maladjusted, a production that asks real questions about how we navigate mental health care. It follows three story lines about characters who are put in challenging positions as a result of lack of proper treatment. Misdiagnosis, improper care, and caregiver burn out are all topics that are covered, though none of the stories reach conclusions. Since this is forum theatre, the play is turned around to the audience.
“You perform the play a second time and the audience gets to yell ‘stop’ if they understand the struggles and have an idea on how to create human centred care,” Diamond explains.
The audience member then takes to the stage and takes over as the character in the play and relates their ideas, while the other actors play off the material they’re given.
On March 24, there will be live webcasts of the show, in which people from the world over can watch the play and interact with a “web actor” who will be set up on computers in the hallway of the theatre. Anyone online can log in to a private web chat and give their suggestions on the direction of the play. The web actor then brings the “intervention” on that person’s behalf to the live production.
It’s not an entirely new concept for Theatre for Living, which started doing live telecasts of their shows in 1989, and then webcasting in 2009.
“We get a chance to reach across the planet with a project that’s very grassroots,” says Diamond.
Maladjusted runs until March 24
Firehall Arts Centre, 280 E. Cordova St.
Tickets $12 + service charges
Buy online: firehallartscentre.ca or call: 604-689-0926