Wellbeing Practitioner Lou Platt talks about working on production ‘All in Your Head’ Livestreamed via Camden People’s Theatre
With a significant rise in the number of referrals and reporting of domestic violence incidents, the dangers faced by victims have become increasingly apparent during lockdown. Highlighting the voices of those who have been victims of domestic violence, writer Safaa Benson-Effiom, alongside a team consisting of Director Lucy Dear, Producer Cheryl Ndione and supported by Wellbeing Practitioner Lou Platt present All in Your Head, a one woman show based on real accounts. Ahead of the production, Lou tells us more about her process of supporting the cast and creative team, her journey pursuing a career supporting mental health within the arts and how she views wellbeing support being implemented more so within the creative process of productions moving forward.
Hi Lou, a live-streamed performance of All in Your Head, which you’ve supported the well-being element of will stream on Sunday 14th February via Camden People’s Theatre. How are you feeling ahead of the performance?
Oh, a combination of feelings! I’m excited about this show and these stories being shared with an audience, to give voice to these stories is so necessary in the process of advocacy, understanding and healing. I trust that the creative team has done a fantastic job in developing the piece, and I’m feeling confident in what will be offered. I’m also feeling curious as to how the audience will respond, and what this show will stir and ignite in those who watch it.
All in Your Head is a one-woman performance based on real accounts of women who’ve experienced domestic violence and coercive control. How have you worked with the cast and creative team throughout the production’s creative process?
The cast and creative team have had access to both group and individual process / reflection sessions. The group sessions are there to take care of the “collective journey”, they provide a space so that the creatives can drop in a little deeper and really tune in to how they are. At the beginning of creative journeys, an artist wellbeing session is a dedicated time to share fears and hopes about the process so that the fears can be met with compassion and connection, and the hopes can be realised. It is also a time to pay mindful attention to where the personal and the performative may meet, as it is at these places of overlap and connection that you may find greater risk to emotional wellbeing and mental health. Don’t get me wrong, these convergence points can also be where the real diamonds of creativity are found too! Creating theatre is a wonderful opportunity, but it is also often really stressful, especially when drawing upon real stories. And so, it’s great, and pretty sensible, to have time integrated into the process that acknowledges the challenges and gives these feelings a place to be recognised and voiced. The team also had access to an “on-call” service, which I often provide to creative processes, where each individual could have a 1:1 session with me to go into any areas that may feel a little more sensitive or private. I see this provision like putting a safety net under a couple of tightrope walkers: if the acrobats know the net is there, they will then feel more confident in taking greater creative risks.
Why was it important for you to take part in the project?
When creatives are drawing upon real stories, with challenging or traumatic content, the need for wellbeing provision is even more important. I believe the inclusion of an Artist Wellbeing Practitioner tends to the place where the personal and performative meet, and if this meeting place is in the field of life-difficulty, it is then really smart, and ethical, to take pro-active care of ourselves and each other.
I believe the audience also benefits from creatives taking pro-active engagement in their wellbeing. “Why?” I hear myself ask. Well, I believe being a creative practitioner who has greater self-awareness reduces the risk of unintentional, unprocessed, sometimes unconscious, personal traumatic material being “acted out” within the art. And because this show is exploring the complex world of relationships, we will all be able to relate on some level, and so we have a duty of care to ourselves, our creative team and the audience to be conscious, mindful and compassionate practitioners.
I guess this leads to the question, “well, why can’t they do this without an artist wellbeing practitioner?” I think it’s important that everyone feels equally supported and to move away from the role of care landing to one role or practitioner. From my experience working with numerous creatives teams, often the care duties can fall to certain roles within teams, like the producer for example, or the lead artist. Bringing in someone from the outside, who specialises in mental health, enables the whole team to be cared for on more of an equal level, in turn leaving them to step whole-heartedly into their unique roles. I think it’s helpful to think of a team of practitioners being a beautiful collection of (different sized/shaped) cogs, sitting next to and relationship to each other. Being attending to our wellbeing, there is a greater chance of these cogs fitting together with ease, awareness and a smooth flow.
Have you learned anything new from the process?
Whether it is a new discovery or a remembering or sorts, every time I work with artists, I learn something. I think what has struck me most profoundly about this project is how courageous, tenacious, supportive and expansive women can be when faced with deeply challenging circumstances. There is so much strength and hope in these stories, and within the creative team that I’ve had the privilege of working with and supporting. It is also important for me to remember that each individual will engage in wellbeing practices in their own pace and direction. Wellbeing isn’t an A-B journey: it is circuitous, spiralling, indirect and full of surprises – a bit like life really!
What has your journey involved in terms of supporting wellbeing within the arts?
Gosh! I could say a lot about this as this could go back to my childhood and the adversities I faced then, which – in some ways – laid the foundation for the work I do now. Actually, one of the team in this production spoke so eloquently about the Wounded Healer archetype when we were reflecting upon the process. I certainly identify with that archetype – attending to my own wounds certainly took me down the path of training to be a drama-psychotherapist. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, so I’ll back up a little before I talk about my therapist training.
In 1999, I began my undergraduate degree in drama and theatre arts at Birmingham University, after which I then co-formed a theatre company with 5 other women –www.theotherwayworks.co.uk. This gave me the necessary lived experience working in the theatre industry as a writer, devisor and performer. I then trained as a drama-psychotherapist as Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, qualifying in 2006. I’ve worked in adult and adolescent mental health ever since, specialising in trauma recovery, eating disorders and addictions. In 2017 I then trained to be a clinical supervisor at the London Centre of Psychodrama, a course run by a wonderful psychodrama-psychotherapist and playback practitioner Anna Chesner (who continues to supervise my artist wellbeing practices, alongside my other fantastic supervisor Clark Baim, another inspiring psychodrama-psychotherapist, and the recent publisher of his amazing book Staging the Personal: safe and ethical practice– a great resource for how to work safely with autobiographical material).
My first direct foray into the role of Artist Wellbeing Practitioner, was in 2012 when I was asked to support the emotional wellbeing of a theatre company in Birmingham (where I live) who were in crisis. And so, before even thinking this would be where my future focused, I offered the company process / reflection supervision sessions for the next 18 months. The practice of Artist Wellbeing has developed and grown from there, deepening and expanding with each artist I’ve had the privilege to work with in theatre, TV, Film, Dance, visual arts, writing and music. I see the role as an Artist Wellbeing Practitioner as a synthesis of my lived experiences in the theatre industry, with my psychotherapy and supervision experience and skills.
With wellbeing becoming more of a focus, how do you see this being implemented in the arts moving forward?
For the past 9 years working as an Artist Wellbeing Practitioner, I have often heard artists say “gosh, I wish I’d had this support before” to which we both usual scratch our heads and can’t quite fathom why mental health support, like this, hasn’t been integrated into processes yet. Or I hear “Is anyone else doing this?”, to which I’m currently saying, “no, not quite like this, I don’t think”. From what I know, I think I’m carving out something new, alongside some other fantastic practitioners who are supporting the arts industries in their own ways (like Nikki Disney, another excellent drama-therapist and supervisor). It’s a bit like I’m working at the vanguard, (which is mainly exciting and sometimes a bit nerve wracking!), but I’d like to say that it’s not about me. I see, and I hope that, artist wellbeing is a movement that all in the creative industries should be wholeheartedly stepping into. I don’t think you can lose anything from taking conscious care in looking after ourselves and each other when we’re making art. When we’re making art we’re, arguably, taking care of society as art is there for the audience to find themselves, to witness their pain and to see their potential – so it makes sense to take care of those that take the brave steps telling these necessary stories. Hashtag Artist Wellbeing! – #ArtistWellbeing
To go back to your question though…so, how do we integrate wellbeing practices into the arts moving forward? I think it begins with asking key questions, like, “How can I take better care of myself and my team when making this art?” or “How can we centralise wellbeing, putting it at the centre of the table, so it’s the last thing to fall off when it inevitably comes to time-and-money shove?” We also have to acknowledge that we’ll feel like we’re swimming upstream for a while when working in new ways. In our western culture we are told, time and time again, to value doing– and to do faster, harder, better – and that our being is somehow secondary. We’ve got to now swim against that tide and harness the power of naivety, combined with collective & self-belief, that when bringing in new ways of working, we can trust that a shift in practice may bring new powers and create art that is even more risk taking than before, because when people feel safer and they are more willing and able to jump higher and further.
People should seek professional advice and consultancy too. Wellbeing practices need training and rigour – it isn’t all floaty, and soft voices with tilted heads (which people can think it is, because that’s what we’ve been shown it is). Wellbeing practices have to wear good solid boots, and be rooted in the here and now. Like anything else that is new or that we’re learning, tending to wellbeing in the arts is going to take a little more time and attention whilst we’re building new wellbeing superhighways for the future. And, one day, we’ll look back and wonder why we used to work 14 hour days, drink 17 cups of coffee and work in environments where aggression, anxiety and stress were normalised, if not sometimes celebrated.
For anyone looking to pursue a career supporting wellbeing, what advice can you give?
I believe good training and continued professional development is fundamental in being a safe and effective wellbeing practitioner, as training will look after both the clients/artists and the practitioner themselves. As creative practitioners, we also need to be able to know when we’re in situations that take us out of our competencies so that we can identify when we need to bring in someone else who can bridge the gap of expertise. I think Mental Health First Aid training is a great place to start. And, if you have a counselling or psychotherapy training, have lived experience of working in a creative industry and possibly some supervision training then, get in touch!
What can viewers expect from the show?
I’m going to be honest here – I haven’t see the show or read the script yet! This isn’t unusual when working with creative teams, as I feel that keeping a bit of distance can help my role. Sometimes I don’t see the work so that my own inner artist doesn’t get too drawn into the creative process and I can stay in the position of wellbeing practitioner. When I position myself at the edge of a process, I can see the processes a little more clearly! So I don’t know how to fully answer this question as I’m also going to be seeing it for the first time on Valentines day. But if I was pushed to answer, I imagine the audience will experience a show that sits tenderly in the heart.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
Performance Date: Sunday, 14th of February
Performance Time: 7PM