A couple of years ago I did something I’d never done before. I answered a facebook call out to be part of a focus group. I was tempted by the offer of free tickets though I did not really know where these tickets would be taking me. The focus group was for SICK! Festival. All I had to do was attend five performances and a couple of meetings and give feedback on both the works I saw but also the festival itself. The whole experience ended up being far more influential than I had ever imagined it would be.
Launched in Brighton in 2013, the 2015 festival was SICK!’s first in Manchester. Manchester is a big move from Brighton (as I learnt when I made the move 5 years ago). Out of the comfort of the, I’m generalising here but, white, middle-class, arty, liberal, and well meaning southern seaside city and into a city with more people, more types of people and more, for want of a better word, ‘issues’. In other words a city that may be more difficult to break into but essentially has more need for a festival such as SICK! and more people who can benefit from it. So our job as part of the focus group was to basically see what we thought of the whole thing. Intimidated at first by the mixture of mental health experts, artists, activists and academics that formed the group, me simply an art history student at the time and certainly no expert on anything, I quickly realised how amazing it was to be given the opportunity to learn from this group of people. To be taken out of my art history bubble where I spent hours reading, writing and thinking about artists responding to other artists, art historians responding to art historians, and to be reminded of what art actually could be. The potential that art holds, whether thats visual, performance, literary, whatever, to make people think, to teach and to change minds.
What is so amazing about SICK! Festival is its approach to this. It works to shine a light on urgent issues that are taboo or misunderstood. It aims to open debates and it understands the need for a balance within these debates between experts and people with personal experience .
I saw some of the most inspiring performances I have ever seen at SICK!. At Sue Maclaine’s Can I Start Again Please a performance written just as much for people whose first language is British Sign Language, as for hearing audiences, with one performer signing and the other speaking I felt frustrated. I knew I was missing out on something, unable to understand the other performer, and I was made aware of the selfish way in which I take my hearing for granted.
My awkward giggles grew into free laughter while Lois Weaver’s alter ego Tammy Whynot discussed ‘getting old and having sex’ and I was blown away by the beautiful and horrific Nirbhaya.
There was so much more that amazed me but in short, what I am trying to say is that, none of these shows were necessarily the sort of thing that I would have picked out in a programme. But all of them taught me something, and made me feel something more than i could have imagined. The discussions after them also were so much more rewarding than your average Q&A.
SICK! Festival describes itself as an ‘antidote to the physical, mental and social challenges of life’. A bold claim. But I do think it is doing such an important thing. Using theatre, dance, art, discussions, lectures to address challenges rooted in body and mind; bringing together academics, clinical practitioners, public health professionals, charities and people with lived experiences to be part of the same discussions.
Have a look at this years programme, even if nothing really looks like your cup of tea I strongly recommend giving it a go, you don’t need to be a theatre lover or a fan of performance to find it worthwhile, and make sure you stick around to talk about it all after!
Filed under: Theatre & Dance