Monday, 23 July 2018

Wired Dramaturgy: Lesley Wilson @ Edfringe 2018

WIRED is a story about the individuals behind the uniform. Told through the lives of three woman, WIRED is the story of a young soldier’s journey through post-traumatic stress; Joanna, the young soldier, her mother and an older soldier who represents the many voices of the military as experienced by the young Joanna.

10-25 August 2018 (except 13/20 August), 2.30pm Army @The Fringe, Hepburn House, East Claremont Street.

Response to questions for Gareth K Vile theatre editor of The List.
How do I define mental health?
My background prior to writing was in Social Work and Counselling, that along with personal experience strongly influenced my understanding of mental health. I see mental health as a spectrum, ranging from mental well-being to mental ill health, and I believe that we can all travel back and forth on that spectrum during our lives. The definition and cause of diagnosed mental illness has long been debated, this is not my area of expertise. Scientific and medical developments continue to improve our understanding of the brain and its functions and supports understanding, research and treatment.
As human beings we experience emotions because of life, how we understand and express those emotions and experiences is what supports, helps or hinders our mental health. Life is challenging and navigating our way through it can take its toll on our bodies and our minds. With our physical health we are taught what to eat and drink and what exercise we should do to support good health, we are less familiar with what supports our mental health and well-being. Everyday things like relationships, family, school, work etc can impact on our mental health, traumatic events like death, loss, abuse, accidents, war etc can, for some people, have a profound effect on their mental health but like our physical health, everyone is unique and how we respond is unique. For some an event is so traumatic that the ability to function in the world becomes impossible, for others it is simply something to be navigated and worked through.
How we are supported in our mental well health and how we self-support is, I believe, the crucial issue. Stigma around physical ill health is rare, we talk about health all the time, we share stories about being in hospital, going to the doctor, what remedies we are using, what the latest healthy eating fad is, but mental ill health is still a dirty secret, hidden from view and often experienced in silence.  

What areas of mental health are you looking at in the performance?
WIRED is the story of a young woman soldier’s journey through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although this is a story about the impact of war on the young soldier, it is also a story about a family, loss, silence and secrets. During deployment to Afghanistan, Joanna, witnesses a traumatic incident and struggles to deal with the memories, flashbacks and voices that wage war inside her head. As with many people who experience trauma, this incident triggers an earlier unresolved and forgotten trauma and Joanna begins to re live both events, struggling at times to know the difference between past and present.

Suicide is also explored in this play as an unspoken issue, but it plays a crucial role in the story on many levels; during war, because of war, as an act of war, deliberate, accidental and as a result of mental illness. It is something that affects characters both present on stage and in the background. (I don’t want to give too much away at this stage!)

In what ways do you hope that your play can help the audience to move forward in their understanding and actions towards a greater sense of mental good health?

WIRED is described as a ‘journey through’ Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the play Joanna tries to continue to work by ‘pushing it down’, when she returns home she does the same by using drink and drugs to suppress her thoughts and feelings. When things reach a critical point, she is introduced to a service that supports her to explore her story and unravel the complexities of the multiple traumas experienced. 
The issues raised in WIRED affect everyone. Although it is a story about a young woman soldier’s journey through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, it is also a story about love, loss and relationships which impact on everyone’s mental health in both positive and negative ways.
Throughout the play Joanna mirrors a view that that is often held. ‘Push it down’ is a phrase that I picked up from interviews with soldiers, but it is a well-rehearsed way of being across society, ‘push it down’, ‘keep it to yourself’, ‘pull yourself together’, ‘cheer up’ are all phrases used with the best intentions but with the worst consequences. 

As can be seen in the play, when Joanna tries to push it down she becomes more and more unwell.
The structure of WIRED is deliberately developed to show the young woman telling her story. Being seen, heard and understood in the world that we live in is how we experience being valued, and supports our mental health. In the play the young woman gets the chance to tell her story and has the opportunity not only to be seen, heard and understood but also to change the way that she understands it and herself.

And given the high-pressure nature of the Fringe, do you have any ideas about positive self-care during August in Edinburgh.

Last year was my first Fringe and despite my well-rehearsed self-care package in place I still got to the end of August exhausted both physically and emotionally, vowing never again! I often hear experienced Fringe people saying, ‘It’s a marathon not a sprint’, which I think is good advice. 

The amount of work it takes to get a show to the Fringe is grossly under estimated and under-valued and most people work long hours for no pay. I’ve learned that it is important to make sure that you have a good team around you who are not only pulling their weight but supporting each other. The Fringe is a hotbed of expectation and disappointment, where emotions run high and low and best friends can become sworn enemies overnight when reviews come in. I think what I learned last year and am holding close to my heart this year is to keep my feet on the ground and remember that the Fringe comes and goes but life, love and relationships go on beyond August. This year I intend to keep my expectations at a reasonable level, pace myself and above all enjoy being part of the greatest festival in the world.

Following training, Joanna is deployed to Afghanistan and believes that she is prepared for what lies ahead. What she is not prepared for is a visit from her past. As the realities of war close in around her, Joanna struggles to make sense of the voices, memories and flashbacks that wage war inside her head.

Award-winning Playwright, Lesley Wilson, undertook extensive research with serving, reservist and veteran soldiers and spent time with both military and civilian mental health professionals whilst writing WIRED

WIRED was originally developed with support from Playwrights’ Studio Scotland and Tron Theatre Creative.

Following its Fringe run WIRED will be touring Arts venues and Army Barracks across Scotland. 

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