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Your interview: Helen Medland and Tim Harrison from Sick! Festival
5:00am Saturday 8th February 2014 in News
Q: How did the idea for the Sick! Festival come about?
HELEN and TIM (H&T): Well we’ve all had bad, difficult experiences in our lives which are incredibly personal, and somehow shape the people we are.
We’re often very bad at talking about these things though. We wanted to present performances, films, visual artworks that let people think and talk about these things openly. Strangely, the festival is a sort of celebration of how we struggle through as individuals and in our communities.
Q: What do you hope to achieve from the festival?
H&T: We want to get people talking about their experiences around these difficult themes. It’s about recognising that these things are very real and important in our lives. We wanted to bring together all different kinds of people who deal with these issues too.
That includes healthcare providers, people who work for charities, medical academics, but also all those people who have to deal with these issues in their daily personal lives. Let’s face it, that’s pretty much all of us at some point. We also just wanted to put on a really great arts festival, with some of the work that we really love. We want people to enjoy it and see some great, exciting shows.
Q: How did you choose the name? Are you concerned it might put people off?
H&T: We’re very aware that the name is a bit provocative. We were interested in all the different associations of the word, it can mean physically or mentally ill, it can mean socially unacceptable or taboo, these days it can even mean cool. We want to invite people to look at these things that we find difficult to think and talk about. Sick can also be a word that is used to judge people in all kinds of ways. We are interested in questioning some of those judgements.
Also we think it’s a pretty punchy name for a festival.
Q: What can people expect to get from the festival?
H&T: There are some really fantastic performances, films and public installations throughout the festival. We want people to enjoy them in their own ways. Some are funny, some are incredibly moving, some are really provocative; they will all make you think. People will also be able to get factual insights into some of the issues we are dealing with. The performances include short talks by leading doctors and academics, looking at the subject from a more factual or care-based perspective. We hope people will find this mix of the artistic and medical, the emotional and the factual, really interesting.
Q: Have people with mental health problems been involved with the festival and if so, in what way?
H&T: A number of the artists draw on their own experiences of mental illness in their works. Kim Noble and David Hoyle, for example, and of course Ruby Wax. They offer a really rich and challenging insight into these experiences, whilst also creating really engaging, often hilarious work. We have both had experiences of mental illness in our own lives, and to some extent draw on this. Throughout the festival, we have tried to create opportunities for people to share their own experiences and thoughts, whether through post-show discussions and debates or in the more informal setting of the festival hub in Brighton Square.
We hope that these become places where people can reflect on their own experiences of mental health, whether they have specific mental illnesses, or are just on the daily emotional rollercoaster that most of us live on.
Q: What benefits do the arts have for people with mental health problems?
H&T: We don’t claim to be providing a cure. We want to raise awareness of these issues. Perhaps through being really open about it, we can help to reduce the stigma that still exists. Even if we can’t solve a problem, sometimes just acknowledging that the issue exists is an important first step. Maybe some of the works and debates in the programme will give others, the friends and families of people with mental illness, some new understanding of those experiences that the people they know are going through.
Q: Why were the four themes of adolescence, mental illness, ageing and death chosen?
H&T: They’re big themes that affect all, or many, of us in our lives on a very personal level. They’re also subjects that are often misunderstood. Together they make a bit of a journey through life, looking at the challenges of different times. We were also looking for areas where there are really important debates happening in society right now.
Q: How were the contributing artists/shows chosen?
H&T: We programme artists that we think make really outstanding work. We look for work that is powerful and engaging, and talks very directly about the issues. Integrity is really important to us. It has to be rooted either in substantial personal experience, or else in some detailed research. We don’t want work that deals flippantly with such big, sensitive subjects. We find this work by going all over the place, in the UK and abroad, following recommendations and scouring the programmes of other venues and festivals. It’s really exciting, but can be pretty exhausting. We’re not complaining though.
Q: Is there any particular reason why Brighton and Hove was selected for the venue?
H&T: We live in Brighton and have been presenting work in The Basement for many years. Brighton is a great place for trying out new, challenging ideas.
People are really up for new experiences. There are also lots of great arts organisations to work with who have really embraced the festival.
On top of that, you have the medical school, which has been a great source of expertise, and some pretty enlightened people working in public health who can see the role that Sick!
can play in raising public awareness about health issues.
Q: What do you feel are the highlights of the festival?
H&T: There are so many, it’s hard to pick: Helen: For me it’s definitely Before Your Very Eyes by Gob Squad. It’s just one of the most fantastic shows I’ve seen in recent years. It’s also the last ever performance of the show after touring the world for the past three years. Kim Noble is also a massive favourite of mine. Not for the faint-hearted.
Tim: Ruff by Split Britches (featuring Peggy Shaw) is my top tip. Peggy performed here a couple of years ago just after having the stroke that she talks about in this new performance.
She was just awesome. Charismatic, warm, profound. Just great. I’m also really looking forward to In May. I’m a big fan of The Divine Comedy and can’t wait to hear how Neil Hannon’s song writing works in a theatrical context.
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