Sarah, we met during the SASSY Sadhana for NaNoWriMo, what had been your initial intention for our time together? I joined the Sadhana with the aim to get the first draft of my half-written novel ‘Something Precious Inside’ finished. I was aiming to write 2000 words a day and I did, for the first couple of days at least anyway....
That changed though, didn't it? Well, I had a yukky cold which slowed me down and I turned to our group guides, Goddesses Brigid, Seshat and Saraswati, as well as my own special SASSY muse, Lou, one of my best friends who sadly left us in November two years ago, for help and guidance to find my mojo again. November is my birthday month, the month she passed and the month my son got the gift of new life with a transplant so it’s a super charged month of energy for me. These energies came together in a way that I wasn’t expecting.
I'd been holding creative writing workshops for some time and had started to work with a group of people with mental health vulnerabilities. It was always fantastic seeing their confidence grow - their talent blew me away. I was working with this group the day The Sun newspaper wrote their vile front page piece on mental health and we talked about how upset this made them. It was horrendous and I knew, in that moment, I wanted to do more to tackle the stigma of mental illness but had no idea how 'little me' could do anything beyond sharing my view that different minds are exactly that - differences that should be celebrated and embraced, not shunned!
When I sat down in the candlelight with my guides and my muse to focus on my novel, I found myself writing notes about a theatre company. One that would enable people with mental health vulnerabilities to work alongside other writers and actors from across the community in workshops and performances. We would produce professional level productions and audiences would come along and see what I see - people working together, sharing, supporting and drawing on each others strengths and weaknesses.
The next day, I called my friend, Norrin Radd, an incredible individual with beautiful gifts as a writer, musician and performance artist. By the time we had finished our tea, Norrin had agreed to co-found the theatre company with me.
So, Untapped, what is it? Untapped is a social enterprise bringing the arts to vulnerable groups in society. My son, William has cerebral palsy, autism and had a bowel transplant in 2008 and we had been on one of the Untapped arts projects for families who have children with special needs. The goddesses had clearly lined things up because, just before the Sadhana started, I had written a piece for Essentials magazine about women who kicked the recession in the ass and did their own thing, and featured Untapped Director, Sue Hamilton. With our connection rekindled, I called Sue for advice on setting up a social enterprise for the theatre group. She suggested we came on board with Untapped to develop their visual art work into writing and the creative arts. So instantly I embarked on a steep learning curve in arts administration, fundraising and event organisation, as well as establishing partnerships with mental health groups and getting started on workshops - so now you see why I didn't get any more of my novel written!
Why is it so important to use the arts to tackle this stigma? My father was a chaplain at a psychiatric hospital so I was bought up embracing mental health differences, but when I watched one of my best friends at university go through their first ‘psychotic breakdown’, I was shocked by the way people reacted. Since then, I have always been troubled by the stigma associated with mental health. If you take the time to understand the differences, you will discover something amazing and beautiful that will inspire you and help you develop your own mind and thinking.
The arts is my arena, my canvas, and it's how I’ve been guided to help challenge and tackle this stigma. Our aim is to give people a secure space to explore creativity through writing, drama and theatre workshops, then develop their talent and produce professional level performances, giving the audience an opportunity to see people who some in society think can’t work along side each other, creating something amazing. They will leave the theatre, not only mesmorised by the talent they have experienced, but with their eyes and ears open to the different ways the human mind works and how beautiful it is when we see and embrace that.
You have a kickstarter campaign, tell us how we can get involved and why we should. Norrin and I have everything we need to get started in January - apart from the money! We need to raise £12,000 by January 24th on our kickstarter page. It’s all or nothing so, if we don’t have the whole amount pledged, we get nothing. I love Christmas and really want to enjoy it with my family but I won’t be able to unless I see we are well on our way to that target so, please, everyone who is reading this, if you care about anything I have said, please pledge whatever you can, even £5. I know it’s Christmas, but nothing will leave your account until the campaign ends on January 24th and it is the season of giving. Some members of the group think we won’t reach our target because no one cares about them or mental health. What better way to show them that people do care than by standing with me, shoulder to shoulder, against the stigma of mental illness backing our theatre group.
See? Isn't this incredible? I signed up in a heartbeat. Supporting mental health awareness through the arts was the easiest 'yes' I've ever made, we need to change people's perceptions of mental health, we need to challenge this stigma and we can do that today by donating to Sarah's Kickstarter campaign: http://bit.ly/untapped-theatre-launch