Mental Health Awareness Week: A spotlight on theatre

From 10th May to 16th May 2021, we recognise Mental Health Awareness Week. Performer, director and Marketing Chair, Michael Horne, has offered to write about mental health and the positive effects theatre can have.

My name is Michael Horne and I have some mental health issues. My issues are nowhere near the severity of some others who I am in regular contact with, not to mention millions of others around the world. However, I wanted to share with you today the positive difference that theatre has had, and continues to have, on my mental health.

First off, the sheer joy of rehearsing and then performing. There is something to be said for “taking your minds off things” and that is exactly what being involved with theatre does for me. At rehearsals and the performance, if I commit totally to the process (and I try very hard to!) then my mind is completely focused and at peace, despite the sometimes chaotic nature of the rehearsal room or the stage. In short, I get so into what I’m doing, the characters I’m creating, the songs I’m singing, that my mental issues melt away. Not to nothing, of course, but enough that there is a strange feeling of normality. Add onto that the physical benefits that come from singing, in particular, with the associated concentration and breath control, and there is so much to be said for throwing yourself into the process. You can read more about the benefits of singing on your health in this Healthline article.

Secondly, just watching pieces of theatre is beneficial for my mental state. There is the obvious up-lift one gets just from going out and doing something different. There is more to theatre than just “a nice night out”, however. Letting yourself get involved in the performance in front of you is incredibly worthwhile. By allowing your own emotions to be pulled through a story, to experience the somewhat more extreme emotions being portrayed on-stage, to allow yourself to be slightly manipulated by what is being told allows you to, safely, experience the highs and lows of life. Theatrical performances are, more often than not, a slice of things that might be, what could be, and to let those flow through you is cathartic – it triggers something in your mind that gives you more flexibility to deal with the real world. There is also the aspect of sheer escapism – taking yourself out of yourself, just by letting the piece be absorbed and take you over for a few hours.

The last aspect I wanted to share is the surrender of control that you embark on in rehearsal and in watching a piece of theatre. That sounds scary, but when all is said and done, very few people want to be in control the whole time. Surrendering yourself to being directed in rehearsal, allowing the character to control you during a performance and allowing your emotions to be taken on a journey when watching a piece of theatre is incredibly liberating and, without meaning to be philosophical about things, is just good for the soul. In every piece of theatre, both dark and comedic (sometimes both!), there is a freeing aspect of working on something that explores the human psyche in a safe environment.

The Coronavirus period has, of course, put a temporary stop to all of this. The outlet that theatre gives me has been missing for more than a year and I’ve felt its loss. However, with theatres re-opening and Sharnbrook Mill Theatre getting back to activities, I hope I can once again feel the buzz and the excitement very soon.

From the darkness of Sweeney Todd to the fluffy escapism of Anything Goes, there is a benefit in every piece of theatre, and I encourage you to explore how theatre can help you with any mental issues that you might have. It’s enjoyable, it’s fun, it brings you closer to people and it puts you in touch with yourself in a way that is entirely unexpected.

We hope that this offers an insight into the ways that theatre can have a positive influence on mental health. If you would like to learn more about mental health, or perhaps seek help for your own issues, we recommend the the charity Mind or for crisis situations, please contact The Samaritans.

Sharnbrook Mill Theatre welcomes anyone who would like to join us to explore the world of theatre. If you’d like to find out what benefits the Mill can have (through performance, helping backstage on our technical team or helping front of house), please get in contact. We would love to hear from you.