Between October 2013 and June 2014 Mirror Mirror Playback Theatre in partnership with Cool Recovery ran a Playback Theatre Tour around community venues and schools in South Devon and Torbay. A total of ten performances were held for adult carers and young carers. The project ended with a Big Review where organizations involved in providing Health and Social Care were invited as well as carers and support workers to hear our findings.
The process began with an invitation from Cool Recovery to perform at two events, both which included a performance for young carers and one for adult carers. In these performances we discovered young people who were very keen to tell their story and that some of them hadn’t been able until this point to talk about their lives at home. One young carer said after the performance that she had been a young carer for over 10 years but had never discussed this with anyone. She didn’t know there were other people in a similar situation to her. This response inspired us to apply for funding to continue this work and we were awarded funding from Big Lottery Awards for All. So this was the beginning of our journey working with carers and support workers. A process of discovery.
We had four aims for this project. This is how we did.
To support Carers affected by mental health issues
From the feedback and members of Cool Recovery and support workers it would appear this aim was met. Support was provided in the form of empathic responses to the issues raised by Carers. The performance also enabled the members of the audience to interact and connect with one another in a supportive environment.
“I feel that the Mirror Mirror people support me and move me along to a better place for myself”
Identifying new carers
This was the most challenging of our aims to achieve. Since the events were held for Carers and were promoted by Carers Services with support workers personally inviting and accompanying them to events, in general the performances only reached people already identified as carers. In future we hope create events for wider audiences that address issues related to metal health and caring in order that people might self identify as carers. This may be possible and possible to implement in a school setting where it could form part of an anti bullying strategy.
Improve Carers mental and physical health and wellbeing
“The stories are reflected with empathy” Empathy and the care and connection it enables are essential to the overall health of people communities and society as a whole. Playback Theatre cultivates empathy and as such maybe directly connected to feelings of wellbeing. “Another excellent performance, helping us to be thoughtful reflective and involved.”
To develop and strengthen a family support network.
Feedback suggested that the performances enabled people to develop and strengthen their connections to each other.
Raise awareness of carers and reduce the stigma of mental illness
Although audience members were mainly carers there was increased awareness of the similarities and differences between caring and responsibility and roles. At an event for young people those involved in caring for people with metal health needs were equally listened to and responded to with sensitivity and compassion. Equally all those stories affected by or with family members affected by family members were respectfully listened to with care. This indicates the form of PT helps to reduce the stigma of mental illness. “Every time I have learned something new about the situation of others, their problems and solutions.” It was also hoped that cares would have the opportunity to experience and enjoy the effective power of Pt. This was certainly achieved as it was noted that almost all feedback from participants was positive. Performances often included humour as well as reverent moving moments. There was not a single event that did not include widespread laughter whether during the warm up workshop activities or performances, and this laughter signaled enjoyment and relaxation. Several people also remarked how powerful and moving the performances were, “A very powerful creative tool”
Mirror Mirror Playback Theatre has helped people to realize that there are other people struggling with similar issues. Thereby reducing feelings of isolation. This was especially apparent at the young carers events.
“ I found the Playback Theatre event to be very moving and powerful. Although we know about our young carers and why they are caring you seem to hear it differently when they share their own. All young carers should have the opportunity to attend such an event. I think one of the biggest outcomes is how the children and young people are able to learn empathy and offer peer support” Katherine Mullan Project manager for Young Devon and Lead Practitioner for young carers
“ Martin and I are heartened by the impact of Playback Theatre on the carers. It reframes issues and situations, enables change, develops and strengthens relationships, is cathartic and fun. We are saddened by the apparent lack of interest and involvement for m other areas of mental health and social care.”
Claudia Benzies Co-manager for Cool Recovery Devon
Feedback from audience member at the Big Review highlighted that people were concerned about young carers and felt that the Playback Theatre model should be taken into schools as much as possible. There was also some discomfort around the culture of denial perpetuating the stigma of being a cares and resultant bullying. Playback Theatre promotes empathy and emotional learning which has been shown to reduce bullying and aggression in children. In this way PT could form part of any schools anti bullying strategy
“Empathy can go a long way in preventing bullying what’s more studies show that kids who are empathetic have better relationships and perform better in school.”
S. Gordon. Author 7 ways to teach empathy and prevent bullying.
Most of the aims of this project were met and Mirror Mirror and Cool Recovery have collaborated well to begin to transform feelings of shame for being a carer into feelings of pride. The events have fostered feelings of support connection empathy and understanding and raised awareness around the issues facing carers. Ongoing work needs to be done to improve relationships with stakeholder organizations and to promote collaboration and effective communication.