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CPSI Share                                                  
11/3/2014 5:00 PM

The Park Bench Players is a Nova Scotia-based theatre troupe with a three-act play developed from the “first-voice” lived experiences of the cast members. What is a little different about this play is that all of the cast members live with a chronic mental illness. During the performance, the six-person troupe shares their life journey in an honest poignant manner and delivers a powerful message of hope and recovery. The response has been so overwhelming that the theatre troupe has taken their performance throughout the province and as far away as Vancouver, BC, delivering more than 44 shows and have many more performances scheduled this year for conferences, universities, health authorities, prisons and law enforcement training.  

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The cast of the Park Bench Players of the Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority: (Back row standing, left to right): Catherine Têtu; Stacey Septon, Mike Martell (with the bike); (Front row seated on the park bench, left to right): Louise Hall, Fran Nunn, and Patrick Chisholm

Accreditation Canada and the Canadian Patient Safety Institute Champion” Awards are pleased to recognize the Park Bench Players for their work to raise awareness about life with a mental illness, reduce the stigma and create a more informed, caring and safer environment for mental health patients.

Verna MacDonald, Education Coordinator of the Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority (GASHA) and Executive Producer of the Park Bench Players says the show has made it possible to talk openly about mental illness. The message places an emphasis on ‘see the person first, not just the illness’ and ‘we are so much more than just our illness.’

“Through this project, our cast members have had the opportunity to be on centre stage and have had the courage to share their very personal, challenging life experiences,” says Verna MacDonald. “The response has surprised them. They did not expect people to be so interested and are amazed at the loud applause and standing ovations.  That is not something that they could expect to experience because of the stigma around mental illness.”

“With a Little Help from My Friends” is a collaborative education project of health professionals, mental health consumers and community volunteers that is intended to educate, entertain and inspire.  The  script was developed and directed by a retired drama teacher and is based on real life experiences of the cast members. The play includes a healthy dose of humor to make the show realistic and entertaining.

The cast members chose the group’s name, Park Bench Players. People will gravitate toward a park bench to contemplate and watch the world go by. Those with a mental illness will often feel invisible to those who pass by, however their hope is to raise awareness, reduce the stigma of their illness and live a meaningful and purposeful life. Thus, the name, Park Bench Players, seemed most apropos.

Every performance is very much a team effort. Verna MacDonald drives the eight-passenger van to get the performers to the venue and provides encouragement to calm nerves and conquer any stage fright. Other volunteers will drive the truck carrying props for the show and university students and community volunteers wear multiple hats coaching the actors, acting as crew, and helping with set-up. Two of the cast members with carpentry skills and graphic design experience built the background scene for the play.   

“This initiative is an outside-the-box approach between healthcare providers and out-patient clients, to deliver a powerful message focusing on what it is like to live with a mental illness,” says Verna MacDonald. “Our cast members say that they no longer feel invisible as their message is resonating and has the staying power to affect change. The feedback we have received from our audiences has been overwhelming and without a doubt we are making inroads and changing the way people think about mental illness and making the community safer for our clients.”