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07 Jun 2019

BY CHRIS JOHNSON  

Are the dramatic arts good for mental health? Of course. Physical health? Absolutely.

Switched on theatre groups know this and build programs with the aim of enriching the minds and lives of both audiences and performers.

The Street Theatre in the nation’s capital is one such organisation that creates seasons of good theatre that equate to good health.

Maura Pierlot, an award-winning author and playwright, who hails from New York and has called Canberra home for the past 25 years, is a former medical news reporter and editor of Australian Medicine. Her new work Fragments, a series of eight interrelated, dramatic monologues that explore mental health issues facing young people, will be performed at The Street Theatre later in the year.

Pierlot says: “The arts are transformative. Theatre projects can increase self-esteem and enhance well-being. Theatre enables people to tell stories, whether their own or imagined stories. Theatre can be inspirational, educational, hopeful, empowering, engaging, transformative. It can lead to personal growth, improved self-esteem and increased well-being.

“Theatre creates dialogue, provides a forum for exercising one’s voice, space to explore new identities, create awareness about social issues, combat stigma etc. Theatre has performative aspects, but can also play therapeutic, pedagogical and activist roles.”

Watching a live show can be so exhilarating that it has cardiac benefits. Researchers who monitored a small sample of theatregoers during a performance of Dreamgirls found their heartbeat was at an elevated range of 50 to 70 per cent for nearly a half-hour, tripling from its resting state by the second act.

In 2017, the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) commissioned research on the mental health impact of its program on young people over the last 20 or so years. They wanted to determine whether participating in drama offered benefits other than more acting and performing skills.

Almost 90 per cent of the more than 1,200 who participated in the ATYP survey indicated that drama participation had a positive effect on their self-esteem, with 94 per cent reporting a positive impact on their general wellbeing.

The Street Theatre welcomes Western Australia-based Spare Parts Puppet Theatre back to its stage bringing their adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Twits from July 10 to July 13.

Arriving just in time for the July school holidays, this very irreverent classic will take Canberra audiences into the world of grumpy old couple, Mrs and Mrs Twit. Blending comedy and puppetry and perfect for kids 4+ The Twits is bound to put a grin on faces of all ages. As Dahl says in The Twits, “a person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly.”

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s director, Michael Barlow said that The Twits is a classic Dahl comedy of a pair of horrible bullies getting their just desserts in the end. “Roald Dahl has a special gift for making fun of adults who treat children unfairly and our heroes can only win by breaking the rules and playing a few tricks of their own. As laugh-out-loud entertaining as The Twits is, it is a great show for encouraging us all to think about how we treat each other.”

First Seen: new works-in-progress, is The Street’s storied program for theatre-makers. Now in its eighth year, First Seen promotes the creation of high quality, original performance work, encouraging debate on issues and relationships. In 2019, the works selected are immersed in personal stories and journeys, and life-changing illness and all written from the heart.

In July, Hanna Cormick will undertake a creative development process for Zebracorn, a title for her new work drawing on how in medical training, doctors are taught "when you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras", to prevent overdiagnosis of rare conditions when a common one is more likely, but rare disease patients are falling through the cracks.

Zebracorn explores how in her late-20s, living in Paris, Cormick became profoundly ill with a series of mysterious and rare medical conditions. A physical-theatre video-art fantasia will take audiences on kaleidoscopic journeys into the underbelly of chronic illness and rare disease.

 

Pic of The Twits by Jessica Wyld 


Published: 07 Jun 2019