It's been an amazing 10 years for May Contain Nuts Theatre Company. We've been through a lot as individuals, we've each had our own mental health challenges to cope with, and as a Company with the uncertainty of lockdown and wondering if we'd come out the other side with the same passion and dedication. But WE HAVE!! And we would like to share some of our thoughts and memories from our first decade with you, while looking forward to the next !
Please feel free to leave a comment or send us an email if you have any questions about our work, we love a bit of feedback and are always happy to respond.
What can I say about Nuts? No words could ever sum up what Nuts has done for me, but here's a few. So many laughs, tears and hugs. Bonds that will last a lifetime. Nuts brings the best out of me, I can be someone I want to be and not be judged for who I am or what illness I have. Nuts has changed my life, what more can I say but 'thank you' xxx
Prior to my mental health struggles I had no interest in drama, acting or writing. I've always been creative but more with art and crafts, and my only experience with acting or performing had been in the school play, aged 12, being forced to do it and hating every minute. Not the best experience for a little girl who didn't want to exist let alone be visible.
Fast forward 28 years and I found myself on the other side of a suicide attempt and being offered Drama Therapy as a way to express my thoughts and emotions in a safe way. I didn't have anything to lose at that point so I thought 'why not?'. It has turned out to be the best thing that has ever happened. I'm not going to pretend it was easy, it was actually very challenging, even distressing and scary at times but all in a safe environment facilitated by a genius of a Drama Therapist (who happens to now be our Director so I have to say nice things about him :-)). Ultimately, it saved my life. And then gave me something to live for.
Enter stage right May Contain Nuts! In a strange way it has made all the trauma of having mental health issues worth it, because without them I would never have walked this path, met this amazing group of creatives, experienced the feeling of being a worthwhile human being and making true friends for the first time in my life. Being able to use my past experiences as well as current struggles to colour each character that I devise is healing in itself, and then using that person to illustrate the difficulties we face in every day life as well as the stressful situations that hit us out of nowhere.
For me, the most valuable thing is performing for Psychology students and running workshops with them. The feedback we get, not just for the quality of our performances, but the benefit they get from talking to us candidly about our experiences, both on a personal level in describing how our illnesses manifest, and our experiences of various mental health services and professionals. We work with them on an 'ask us anything' basis and we answer with honesty which sometimes takes them aback and sometimes reduces them to tears. But to make a difference to the way they see 'patients' as real people with real lives and valid experiences is beyond rewarding for me. To be told that their time with us has been the most useful part of their module is truly gratifying and if we can have even a tiny influence in the way future mental health professionals see us then our work is done. And for me it's worth every emotion that I put in.
So if you are reading this as someone with mental health issues and wondering if Drama Therapy will help, I would urge you to try it. If you are a student reading this and wondering what career path to take, I would say have a serious look at being a Drama Therapist. People like us need people like you.
Here's to a future of acceptance and understanding of mental health issues, and to another 10 years of working to achieve that goal.
For me Nuts is more than a theatre company. Working with university students, Community Mental Health Teams and the general public; creating pieces around mental health is a valuable and enjoyable thing to do.
In a Nutshell - being involved going on the stage helps and teaches equally.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of May Contain Nuts. Ten years! That in itself is an achievement, separate to all the hard work, productions, workshops, Q&As and small group work we have done. Ten years ago, this year, a group of people interested putting on a performance started to improvise around a very simple idea of someone sitting in a chair. We spent the afternoon gathering ideas, suggestions and hope, because we wanted something to happen. Something that would illustrate an honest and open view of mental illness and mental health care. It was a sunny afternoon, warm and exciting: something was going to happen and in that space we began, we started and what was our first step became something which a few years later would gather the support of Sir Mark Rylance and be nominated for three national awards, winning two of them and being highlighted as an example of excellence in practice. We have a come a long way, but never strayed from our message and our focus.
Over the last ten years we have improvised and produced seven shows, countless workshops and been involved in higher and further education as well as secondary schools as an advocate for further understanding of mental illness. WE have helped train and educate: psychologists, nurses, drama therapists, pupils and teachers at schools. We have championed speaking out about mental health, educating people , challenging bias and prejudice and taking our expertise to professional clinicians of the future. And, we will continue to do so.
It hasn’t always been an easy journey. We have had people leave and people join and each change in such a small tight knit group takes time, but we have rolled on and are now exceeding what we thought was achievable in terms of quality and creativity with a show that for the first time will be over two acts. It is also our first show that does not focus directly on mental illness, but looks at the impact of relationships upon a group of woman, with each other, and the absent men. I am sure this will be the most dynamic and relevant piece we have yet produced. We have previewed act one with an audience and the feedback and comments illustrated that there is an excitement for what it says and for where it will go in act two. Considering we have spent a year on producing it, the response was very gratifying and encouraging.
We work hard, we don’t settle, we improve all the time and we learn all the time. We put together challenging pieces that audiences applaud but also question and disagree with. We’re honest about the way we work, what we can produce and why we say and do certain things in our shows. We don’t pull our punches which makes us challenging and outspoken; but we always want to learn and understand because that helps us and the work that we produce.
This is a company I am proud to be involved with. A company that has worked hard to win awards, plaudits and support for the work we have accomplished. We work at the grass roots because that’s the best place to start but we walk on to perform wherever we’re needed, be it Universities, multi-disciplinary teams, schools, theatres, mental health units, churches, pubs or anywhere we can, making our message and our support accessible for all.
Here’s to the next ten years…
If someone asks me "what do you see yourself doing in 5 years time?" I used reply with "I don't know what I'm doing in a months time." Imagine my surprise when we realised that May Contain Nuts turns 10 this year.
While I had underlying mental health issues for a while, 2 major events brought everything to a single point in my life, starting drama therapy. I found it strange how this 1 hour a week session was able to help me understand my feelings and thoughts and struggles in a way that I couldn't quite manage when in general talking therapy. Somewhere down the line our Drama Therapist (also our director, who somewhat keeps us focused) mentioned about starting up a drama group that wouldn't be about the therapy side of things, where we would create a piece and present it to friends and family.
So it began, with a man in a chair, and developed into our first piece titled 'Insidious Baggage'. During this we explored the relationships between co workers where the mental health of the much beloved Ozzy (just don't ask Shirley) was causing problems in and out of the workplace.
An opportunity came about to present this piece as part of a workshop that Gerald (see director) teaches more or less every year for the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology students at the University of Hertfordshire at the end of 2012. We had barely taken our bows when we all shared a look, this is something amazing, when can we do it again.
So we did it again, we created more plays, we did a series of monologues, we've even managed to put on a performance or 2 via zoom when we were under lockdown. We have always been honest and upfront when talking about how our mental health impacts our lives, take time to remind everyone that we all have mental health just not everyone has mental ill health and trying to educate people to think in ways other than what is taught in a textbook or shown in the media.
Throughout the years, the highs and lows, the comings and goings, we have adjusted and adapted in ways we never would have thought possible. We have continued to produce shows and pieces that will always be relevant and to a high standard that we set ourselves. This standard is reflected in our 3 nominations for innovation in mental health where we won 2 of those, including the Advancing Healthcare Award sponsored by The Guardian newspaper. We have given interviews, performed at conferences, in pubs, anywhere that will take us. We have a wonderful patron in Sir Mark Rylance and, barring Covid-19, have yearly workshops with several Universities.
For the most part the past 10 years have been some of the best of my life, but there is no way I could have done any of it without the rest of the company, and for that I thank them from the bottom of my heart for this amazing journey we have all taken to get here.
Happy 10th birthday May Contain Nuts, looking forward to the next 10. xx
A lot can happen in 10 years. From an acorn of an idea Nuts has grown. With each rehearsal, each performance and each workshop we have grown in confidence. We have survived mauling by ‘professionals’, indifference from doctors and adulation from drama and psychology students.
Awards and ceremonies have come our way; we have taken our place alongside amazing health workers as equals. We are seen and heard, our ‘lived experience’ appreciated and validated.
There have been ups and downs but the company has held together, supporting each other and working through difficulties. We are unique (of course we are) and will remain so.
After 10 years I am so grateful to belong to a family and that family’s name is Nuts.