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Roland Martin - Issue #43


Roland Martin

February 7 · Issue #43 · View online

Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London; Chair - Society of Heads - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin


What's all the drama?
I was watching Barrie Keeffe’s Barbarians last week - a student performance taken on, some might think, by some unlikely lads. It is a play about frustration, in particular the frustration of 16 and 19 year old boys - three school friends - facing a lifetime of who knows what. The play was first on stage in 1977 and essentially, I found myself contemplating that - much as society, racial tension and lack of opportunities were the focus of the crises in the drama - this was a play charting deteriorating mental health in two young men; something about which they were unable to communicate and for which there was no support. Suffice it to say that it didn’t take much for the producers to make the play valid and relevant today.
Later in the week, back at Freemen’s, we brought Wonderland to life on the stage; though Laura Wade’s framed narrative - Alice - successfully turned Lewis Carroll’s children’s standard on its head. Again, we saw young actors taking on challenging roles, playing characters computing complex emotions, grieving and coming to terms with profound sadness and loss. 
Both plays moved their audiences. Both plays gave us tween/teenagers writ large. Both illuminated the challenges which young people face poignantly.
It’s interesting that two schools have chosen to perform works of drama with such strong messages. One ends bleakly, the other ends with hope. 
I’m not an advocate of the sort of drama lesson where the kids all ‘do’ bullying, or ‘teen pregnancy’, or emulate 1980s Grange Hill plot lines; that’s to say I’m not a ‘Drama as PSHME’ fan; I believe there’s an intrinsic place for Drama / Theatre Studies in the curriculum without it taking on the wholly pastoral role.
That said, beyond the classroom, beyond the academic and practical discipline of studying theatrical art, I’ve been interested to learn of drama being used by therapists to explore mental health, issues and trauma. This shift from a traditional static therapy, talking and discussing mental health, towards acting it out and exploring approaches to problems is fascinating. I’ve written before about the relaxation I find when cooking; any of the creative arts - crafts/arts as apparently diverse as dance, embroidery, writing, reading (recommended booklist for children, here) - can bring that sense of peace. Church is a pretty good place to be mindful, too; I was interested to read this article about the increased popularity of evensong at Oxford and Cambridge from students across religions. I was talking with our Chaplain only today about the service of Compline - a truly mindful end to a day, if you can ever find one. If you can’t, spend half an hour with this before you go to bed…
Mind, the charity for better mental health, lists a number of possible arts therapies on its website:
About arts therapies | Mind, the mental health charity - help for mental health problems
In the right hands, with careful practitioners, in the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley, drama teaches ‘self-knowledge and self-respect’.
Fitting then, that we find ourselves in Children’s Mental Health week, as the fundamental crisis explored by writers, artists, musicians et al, ad infinitum, is the quest to unlock the universal human problem, not to roll headlong towards old age like Lear, ever but slenderly knowing oneself. It goes without saying that it’s up to us to try our best to bolster the youth when they need it most, allowing them catharsis on stage and page.
Why now?
I don’t for one minute think that children have only just begun to have mental health concerns and issues. I do however know that we have new challenges in shepherding children through the quagmire of life. According to The Mental Health Foundation:
Most children grow up mentally healthy, but surveys suggest that more children and young people have problems with their mental health today than 30 years ago. That’s probably because of changes in the way we live now and how that affects the experience of growing up.
What’s good is that we’ve become much more receptive in talking to young people about these challenges - and offering opportunities to talk about them - really openly. Often, on social media (ironically, one of the causes for a decline in young people’s mental well-being, in my opinion), one reads statements to the effect that everyone has mental health, just as we all have physical health, and some are mentally healthier than others.
The experts tell us that three children in every class will have a mental health issue. So the Children’s Mental Health week draws national attention to a real concern with politicians and members of the royal family beginning to wade in and give even more gravitas to the cause.
More reading:
Children's Mental Health Week 2017
What we do - Mental Health for Children and Young People - YoungMinds
Prime Minister Announces Plan to Transform Mental Health Service
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