Editor’s Note: Mental health disorders are usually deemed abstract; “invisible”, in contrast to physical ailments like a fractured limb or the flu. I am therefore so thrilled that this handful of youth are championing for real and relatable mental health in their upcoming play in(VISIBLE). I especially appreciated that they took pains to develop the characters holistically, instead of reducing them to stereotypical caricatures of mental disorders. Kudos to Vishnu, Janelle and team, and thank you for advocating for better mental health awareness!
1. Can you tell us more about in(VISIBLE) and why it was named so?
We realised that the struggles that people face, especially mental disorders, are most often invisible. Most people only see the visible side of things (e.g. facial reactions, physical or verbal behaviours etc.) but they never see the thought processes, family situations or personal feelings. These are the invisible circumstances that a person faces on their own and that was something that we wanted to bring more light and attention to.
2. When and how did it all begin, and what was the process like in putting together this play?
in(VISIBLE) started out as a Singapore Polytechnic Final Year Project (FYP), it was conceptualised by 5 final-year students in the Diploma in Applied Drama and Psychology.
In developing our script, we interacted with youths at the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) and did lots of extensive literature reviews. We also spoke to various people, including those with lived experience. This research translated into stories that people had shared with us, and we worked with the Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT), who was our project partner during this FYP process.
There were no auditions for this as it was a school project thus we only had our teammates to work with. Rehearsals were intense, and further devising was done. We constantly reviewed our work so that it would not be overly-portrayed in an unreal manner.
We wanted to keep it as real and relatable as possible.
As this was an SP-wide project back then, we publicised our initiative to SP students only.
For this second launch, we put up an open call on our course’s Facebook page. As we wanted more people to benefit from this project, we worked with *SCAPE to reach out to a wider community.
3. What were the trials and triumphs you’ve experienced?
It was tough to handle our own emotions — we felt very strongly for the people we came into contact with, and for the characters portrayed. We were very into our roles and it even came to a point where we brought our roles home with us, out of the rehearsal space. That became very draining and taxing for us.
But through that, we understood better, a slight taster on what a person living with a mental disorder goes through.
We were constantly very worried about the appropriate portrayal of the disorder; we did not want it to be overly portrayed (which risks falling into stereotypes!) Because this topic was something that was very sensitive, we were initially lacking in confidence. But now that we have gone on to the second round, our confidence grew as the days went by. This is just the beginning.
Educating young people is only a stepping stone to a more empathetic society for the future.
4. What do you hope to achieve through this?
I hope that through this experience, a participant would be able to step into the shoes of someone living with a mental disorder, or at least get a small taste of it. I hope to be able to bring to light the struggles of someone with a mental disorder, it isn’t easy at all. Ultimately, I just hope that young people will support people living with a mental disorder, just like how a physical disorder is supported. Mainly, just be their friend and not run away/avoid them!
5. Can you share more on how you came to decide on which characters and conditions to feature in the play?
According to research, depression and anxiety are the most commonly faced mental disorders among young people.
Psychosis, though, was something that not many people knew about, and we felt that young people should gain more knowledge about it.
We wanted to explore more disorders initially, but we did not want to overwhelm the audience. Thus, we decided on something that was a little more common, and just highlight one lesser-known disorder which is psychosis.
Character wise, we wanted to feature three aspects of life that someone below the age of 30 would face – school, work, and National Service (NS). These were relevant especially in the local context.
6. Mental illnesses are usually multifaceted and not as straightforward as one may think. How do you avoid the pitfalls of stereotyping when it came to character development?
We acknowledge that mental disorders are different from person to person, thus we created personalities (through acting exercises) to counter that. In these personalities, we created distinct behaviours belonging to the individual, such that it doesn’t induce such stereotypes, but that the audience will see the person and not the disorder.
Also, we constantly reviewed ourselves with experts and the script with people with expert knowledge to check if what we are saying and portraying was true or real and not influenced by the harsh portrayals by the media.
7. What message would you like to convey to the public when it comes to understanding mental illnesses and the people who struggle with them?
Support comes in many different ways. And even if you do not know how to support someone, hear them out, listen to them — be a friend. Do not judge them for their mental disorder, but support them at their every low, and cheer them on at their every high. Now is the best time to start! When was the last time we asked someone how they were doing?
Date: 13 Feb (Sat)
Venue: *SCAPE Media Hub (Level 5, next to CHAT Hub)
Showtimes: 2 pm; 6:30 pm
Register for free: http://www.scapers.sg/events/invisible
You can also find out more about the show on *SCAPE’s website: http://scape.sg/online/tackling-the-invisible-symptoms-of-mental-disorder
Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1029722097087990