Dancing for Awareness: Erasing the (Mental Health) Stigma

erasingthestigmaWEB“Erasing the Stigma” is a multi-media dance performance that sheds light on the study of mental health and explores the various struggles of those affected by mental illness.

The event is the newest performance put on by Art for Awareness and will be happening October 4, 5, 8, and 9 at the Adam Scott Auditorium, in collaboration with the Peterborough Dance Collective, the Schizophrenic Society of Ontario, and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“Art for Awareness is a newly-formed local group of talented and passionate people whose mission is to raise awareness of social issues through various arts performances,” explained Marsala Lukianchuk, the Director of Art for Awareness.

Rachel Bemrose, the co-founder of Art for Awareness and Dance Choreographer for “Erasing the Stigma,” elaborated in an interview on the group’s mission and their goal behind producing the performances.

What caused you to form this organization in the first place?

A group of local artists came together and wanted to use the arts as a vehicle for addressing social justice. Hence, [Art for Awareness], AFA, was formed. We decided that every year we would focus on a specific issue. This year, it was mental health. We chose the broadway musical, Next to Normal, as our first show which we performed in April and are following up with “Erasing the Stigma”.

Where did the arts aspect of your organization come in to play?

It really was what brought us all together. We had worked on community shows in different capacities, like as actors, singers, dancers, musicians, directors, choreographers, tech crew, stage crew, and costumes. We just felt that using our talents for the greater good of society was a fulfilling idea.

What is the story behind “Erasing the Stigma”?

“Erasing the Stigma” is an original piece that I developed in collaboration with many artists, dancers, and especially my film editor, Andrew Root. As a teacher, I had encountered a large number of people affected by mental illness in the past ten years, and I felt that many of those people were afraid to get the help they needed because of the stigma that is often associated with it. The show is intended to tell the stories of the brave people who came forward to be interviewed.

I hope this helps others understand that they are not alone and that there are places and people who can help. One of our interviewees was actually an audience member from Next to Normal who came to speak with us afterwards about the profound impact the show had on her. The stories are captured on video as well as in music and dance. We are also showcasing it during Mental Health Awareness week to bring a voice to this issue.

What is your hope for the future of mental health awareness?

My hope is that it becomes more normalized so that people aren’t embarrassed or afraid to get help. Someone with pneumonia isn’t going to refuse antibiotics, whereas someone with a mental illness is embarrassed to even admit they need help. I also hope that people will start to realize the importance of staying mentally healthy themselves. Finally, I hope that it may help at least one person who comes to see the show.

Is there anything else you would like to add about Art for Awareness, “Erasing the Stigma”, or mental health in general?

As a new group, it’s always tough to expand your audience base. I really hope that we get some students out on October 4, 5, 8, and 9 to see the show. The CMHA [Canadian Mental Health Association], Schizophrenia Society, and LYNX will all have representation at the show to help people if anyone has questions. It’s a great opportunity for art and education to come together.

Tickets for the show can be purchased at Black Honey (217 Hunter St W.), or at the door on the day of the event for $10. Shows start at 8 p.m. and are perfomed at the Adam Scott auditorium. One-third of the proceeds raised from this event will go towards the LYNX: Early Psychosis Intervention Program, a program focused on identifying, diagnosing and treating early stage psychosis in youth.