‘Epic Minds’is a 35 minute dance theatre circus production about psychosis and the idea of insanity. I have created and directed this piece to complete my MA in Directing Circus and Physical Theatre at Bristol Circomedia.
I am a woman, 69 years of age, who is passionate about making engaging, thoughtful work that embraces dance, theatre and circus. I am a contemporary dancer by original training. Reaching my 60s was like being rocketed into a creative and productive phase in my life where time seems to rush by and the need to explore my dreams is urgent. I have felt completely liberated to be anything I want to be and to ignore any of the restrictive and boring expectations society often still has of what a woman in her sixties ‘should’ be doing. It feels like the rules need no longer apply and I only wish I had come to this awakening earlier in my life!
I have noticed that there is an emerging group of women and men like me who are seizing the latter part of their life with passion and curiosity. I am hopeful that this group is expanding with every passing year.
I think this is partly why I was so drawn to make a piece of work about the experience of psychosis which is perhaps a vivid example of liberation, freedom, imagination and living in the moment.
The main character in ‘Epic Minds’ is played by Heather Parkin, an aerial rope artist with a head injury from a car crash who frantically tries to process the ecstatic but disturbing psychotic episodes she experiences though autobiographical writing. I have been incredibly lucky to have her writing and experience as a rich and insightful resource from which I have drawn in creating this show. The show is not specifically Heather’s story; but her long relationship with her aerial rope illuminates many of the ideas.
‘Epic Minds’ looks at the wildly liberating, surreal, sensory and disturbing world of psychosis as well as its unsustainabililty and eventual damage to the brain. It asks questions about insanity and its treatment plus attempting to look at our perception of what insanity is and how this at odds with society’s perception of sanity and what is ‘normal’.
The tension between a restricted, controlled life and the adventurous, fully in-the-moment life of someone experiencing psychosis is explored through the medium of dance, aerial rope, juggling and song.
I drew ideas and images from surrealist art, drug-inspired music such as the Beatle’s ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and artists such as Yayoi Kusama making work about their own hallucinations and psychotic experiences as well as from Heather’s own writing and experiences.
Whilst the content is serious, it is an entertaining piece, with many comedic moments when the conventional medical world clashes with the world of the ‘lunatic’ or is drawn into the world of the ‘lunatic’ which seems so much more fun than their own world.
Many people believe psychosis to be a miserable, frightening experience; but it can also be incredible and memorable with visions and ecstatic moments. Of course, it is not a state the brain can sustain and intervention of some kind is required as the brain loses volume if left for too long in this highly activated state. This is one of the reasons for making this piece as I wanted to show both sides and also to provoke spectators to think about mental health, how we label it and how we treat it, perhaps seeing so called mental health issues more as natural human responses to our lives, our experiences and events around us. Viewing mental health challenges this way might shift how we treat/medicate people struggling.
Interestingly, simply listening attentively to someone has been shown to be phenomenally powerful as an intervention.
There is still so much judgment, lack of insight and lack of compassion for people experiencing mental health issues. As a result, they often feel isolated, broken somehow and unable to talk honestly about their experience. I have experienced depression, anxiety and complex PTSD and still have times when they overwhelm me again. At times like this, I feel closed in and unable to be honest about how I feel to most people.
Working in circus and theatre gives me a space to create work that can represent all ages and a wide spectrum of human experience in an engaging and entertaining way. I hope also that it can be a small part of the shift towards a more thoughtful and compassionate world.