Nuts about 'Nuts
The company were asked if they would like to submit supporting statements for the application for our first Arts Council Grant.
What follows is their own words in all their honesty, fragility and strength.
What follows is their own words in all their honesty, fragility and strength.
"I just went along initially so that I could spend more time with the amazing group of friends I had made at Drama Therapy, and, not having had any previous experience of acting or any real knowledge of plays or literature (at least not since doing English Lit at school), I didn't expect to enjoy it or get anything from it other than the social interaction. In fact I expected to feel a bit intimidated and inferior due to my lack of experience.
But I was wrong. I was always a creative person in my 'previous life' but always kept it to myself, not wanting to share my projects or ideas with anyone for fear of ridicule or rejection. But at Nuts, I have the freedom and the emotional security to express myself and my ideas, and am able to contribute and feel listened to and valued. I love the process of creating something 'real'.
I had never really expected to actually have to perform in front of an audience. In fact, I always avoided school plays or any kind of presentations at work etc. because I never had the confidence to 'present' myself as the feeling of being watched, looked at and exposed was just too much. But with Nuts I can do it. Because I have been part of the process of devising the piece, because I am surrounded by my genuine friends, because we are a supportive unit, and because it's fun. And I guess it's because I am not standing up there being myself, but being a character that I have had a part in inventing and who has been shaped and crafted by my friends.
Now, Nuts means so much more. Since my diagnosis I have learnt a lot about Mental Illness. I have come to realise that I had been suffering from depression for the majority of my life but had never admitted it to myself or anyone else due to the stigma and shame of admitting that I had 'failed' and 'couldn't cope'. I now have a knowledge of other mental illnesses and my friends are all 'mentally ill', and I can say with complete honesty that they are the most genuine, intelligent and interesting, empathetic and supportive people I have ever had the privilege to know. And because of this I want to promote the fact that 'mentally ill' people are real people, not people to be feared, ridiculed or belittled.
I want to do whatever I can to rid the stigma that is still associated with it, to help those who may be suffering in silence to get help, and to prevent any more deaths or unfulfilled lives due to the ignorance of these conditions.
If 'May Contain Nuts' can achieve this then our collective experiences will have been worth the trauma.
So, I have always wanted to be acting, since I was very little, but was repeatedly told that it wasn't a proper job[...] So I decided to concentrate on what I felt was a more academic subject which still allowed me to be creative, science[...] but when asked those 'where do you see yourself in 10 years' questions, I couldn't think of anything solid for what I wanted to do, there were maybes, and possibles, and I'm still looking into its.
Then I reached the point of not being able to cope with everything, and in this huge whirlwind of talking and groups and medication and facing all these new things while being so afraid of everything, there came these few hours where I would be sat in a big shabby room with a handful of people doing drama based on our worries and problems, or sometimes just talking, and that was when everything stopped running at full speed, and I could finally recognise things that were happening and what was going on.
Unfortunately that feeling didn't always last, but I remembered how much I loved acting. So when when the possibility arose to join this company came up, well I didn't jump at it, but I got myself out the house and made [myself] go. Very quickly this group became the most important thing I did in my week, rehearsing was fun, and we would bat ideas around together and give our say on everything and slowly a piece began to emerge, we later called it Insidious Baggage.
One day, Gerald mentioned about a workshop that he ran at the University of Hertfordshire for the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology course, and he asked if we would be interested in presenting our piece there with a q&a session afterwards. We all eventually agreed, and off we trotted on the day the Aztec calendar ran out and the world was about to end, to perform for our first audience... I don't know about anyone else, but I was dreading the whole thing, and although I knew that we knew the play inside and out, back to front and every other which way, I thought there is no way this is actually going to happen, I will mess up and they will laugh and it will be horrible.
Then the music started, and everything just went away, and I was this character, talking and interacting with these other characters that l had seen grow in our rehearsal time. Before I knew it, the play was over and I have never felt more satisfied with anything and I suddenly realised a few things. I never wanted this feeling to end, I loved the fact that we were doing [a] workshop to help people have a better understanding of what it is like to be someone who suffers from mental health and that the people I was doing this amazing thing with, they weren't just my friends, they're my family in the whole sense of being there to share everything, if I need them they would be there and if they needed me I would be there too, and any time I get to spend with them is just the best, and if we happen to make people understand mental health a bit better then that is a massive plus to me.
When I first started therapy I was obviously very depressed and not really expecting much to be honest, but as the weeks went by I realised that the people I was sharing my therapy with were actually really nice people and they/it was helping me so much more than expected, fast forward 18 months and I had made some great friends and I wanted to be able to see them more than the two hours a week that I did.
Whilst looking at the notice board in WA&TS at the Shrodells Unit after a drama therapy session we noticed an advert for a theatre company by Gerald and after a chat and a coffee we thought "yeah this sounds like fun" but on a selfish level I thought " you know what this could mean, I will see them all for even longer each week". I had never done anything like this before and didn't think for one minute that I would get up and perform in front of an audience, to be honest, I didn't really think too far ahead at all. The longer everything went on, the more confident I became and started putting a bit of oomph into it, also the longer it progressed the firmer our friendships became and were going for coffee's on a regular basis and other social outings. This was why I joined the theatre company and the acting was secondary, while we were socialising I was having more and more fun, I wasn't stuck indoors worrying about anything and everything.
I'm not sure when exactly everything changed, but one day I was at home thinking about an upcoming performance, when I realised that this could be the thing that I had been looking for, not that I was even aware I was actually looking, but I knew that the people in this theatre company are my friends. Not mates, not drinking buddies, not people that would let me down but friends that, if I needed them for something minor or major, would bust a gut to help me because they know, they just know, what its like because they've been there, they are there and they understand me like no one else has been able to understand me in my life. Now the theatre company is my job, my reason for going on, it's exciting, it's stimulating, it's awesome. I think about the stuff we do, the performances, even the meetings but I don't worry or fret, well no where near as much as I used to, and when I do struggle I think about "May Contain Nuts Theatre Company" and how proud I am to be part of something so amazing and as a consequence my memory is getting better and life doesn't seem better, it is better.
Katie - Disclaimer. What follows was of no use for getting the Arts Council grant because I neglected to actually send it to anyone. *facepalm*
What is "May Contain Nuts"?
Started by the drama therapist from WA&TS (Watford Assessment and Therapy Services) in May 2012, May Contain Nuts is a theatre company consisting mainly of service users. Initially there were five of us and the aforementioned drama therapist, let's call him Gerald.
Calling ourselves May Contain Nuts is a bit ingenuous in that there are definitely nuts. We guarantee nuts. We are the nuts. We are all in some way broken and trying to fix ourselves. One of the ways in which we do that is through drama.
The founding members all attended one or other of Gerald's drama therapy groups. These groups were, in every sense of the word, therapy. Allowing us to deal with emotions and themes that we struggled to get to grips with in our everyday lives. The drama that was produced in those sessions was private and ephemeral, performed only for the group and never to be repeated.
Working in this way was both hugely beneficial for the individual members, and enabled a group connection based on trust and acceptance of each other. I do not think Nuts could be what it is today with out that start, but it is not group drama therapy. It is a young theatre company whose purpose is to generate performance
pieces. We don't focus on our personal struggles as we had done in the therapy group, unless it is to consider how these struggles can provide insight into the work. This does not mean that Nuts does not have a therapy role, however. It is an artistic outlet. It provides structure to our weeks. It is something to look forward to and it means we leave the house at least once a week. That may not seem like much but for us, at times, that is huge. It is an escape from the struggle of our daily lives into the characters we chose to depict and it is our baby that we nurture even as it nourishes us.
So far we have worked by devising through improvisation. 2014 sees us starting to work with incorporating texts into an improvised piece that we plan to take into schools. Working with the theme of self harm, we're using our own experiences of destructive coping mechanisms to create a piece that will hopefully challenge the isolating nature of distress for the intended adolescent audience.
We're not better. Mental illnesses aren't easily cured. But we're still here, in no small part thanks to the mutual support and sense of achievement May Contain Nuts had given us. We mean to go on. We've got a lot more to say.