This Is Not Personal Invites Mental Health Discussions With Open Arms

Published in Arts  
'This Is Not Personal' 'This Is Not Personal' Image © Nicolee Fox

'This Is Not Personal' at Perth's Fringe World invites people in who have been tempted to tell the checkout chick their life story – people who have been pestered about not seeming like themselves.

Live artist Jen Jamieson's new work is essentially a performance workshop bringing a small group of people together to develop responses to the challenges of life.

It pairs personal reflection with social interaction, aiming to foster new ways of wellbeing.

Jen tells us more.

This is a new work. What are you hoping to achieve when you present it at Fringe World?
I originally presented this work at Kiss Club late last year – a performance event for ideas in development, featuring emerging and established artists across live performance practice. Selected artists present ten minutes of a work-in-progress to a live audience, providing a chance to trial new ideas and receive feedback in a supportive, critical environment. After this initial test at Kiss Club, the work I will present at Fringe will be an hour-long 'workshop performance' for six audience participants. This next development of the work will be to test out ideas and refine the process for a larger-scale work later in the year. During each performance, the audience and I will talk about mental health and share some of our stories in a playful way. Each participant will be able to create a bespoke card to use in real-life situations for times of difficulty. A set of sign-cards to assist you when your mental health is not helping you socialise. Eventually, I want to be able to present this 'workshop' as a performance for a much larger audience.

Why do you think an event such as this belongs in the Fringe World setting?
PICA have generously commissioned this work during Fringe to embrace its atmosphere of risk-taking and experimentation and allow me to host a development of the work for future presentation on a larger scale. The energy of Fringe is perfect for me to test out my ideas in a festival chock-full of curious and adventurous audiences. For Fringe in 2020, PICA will present four Western Australian artists with four brand-new works across a colourful spectrum ranging from the gentle to the outrageous. I love that PICA have curated this programme that celebrates care, confession and community as it transforms into a queer party, a therapeutic workshop, a night club, and a live lipstick apothecary. What a perfect mini programme to be inserted into the intense Fringe programme!

Do you have any general comments about the current state of mental health awareness in society?
We have this rhetoric that it’s okay to talk about mental health, we are encouraged to, there are hashtags and Facebook posts, there’s TV commercials with the two mates at the BBQ, the couple in their backyard, telling us to talk about it. . . But in my experience, it doesn’t really feel that safe. I think it’s great that there is more awareness and conversations happening though, but there needs to be more opportunities for people to talk and be listened to, be accepted.


What do you think is the biggest misconception surrounding the realm of mental health?
I think for many people it’s scary and overwhelming to be able to listen and accept another’s mental health struggles. There is still a lot of fear and misunderstanding and perhaps worry that you can make someone worse. There is also a huge sense of guilt and personal fault when we listen to friends and family members talk about their struggles. We take it personally.

How do you think we should move toward changing that misconception?
Keep talking but more importantly keep listening; really grip onto the idea that we don’t need to take it personally when someone else is struggling.

Was there something that triggered you to create this show? Where did the idea come from?
If I walked into a meeting with you and I had a broken arm, I could talk about that with you, and you’d probably be ok with that; but if I walked in and talked about my depression or anxiety, could I? What I’ve noticed, in my experience, when I have done this – shared any current mental health concerns or issues, it kind of acts like an instant conversation killer. If you have enough conversation killers, you can start to avoid situations, isolate, not participate, not go to work, not go to someone’s birthday party, not turn up to a rehearsal; and I wondered how it might be possible to participate as if I’d broken my arm.

What are your hopes when it comes to people's reactions to this event?
I hope that people leave with a sense of hope. I’m also a big believer in the social activism of sharing with strangers and this ‘activism’ is possible in the types of performances I make. I also hope that people walk away and use their bespoke cards if needed.

'This Is Not Personal' plays PICA Performance Space at Perth Institute Of Contemporary Arts from 17 January-1 February.



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