Ripple effect: Mental wellness during COVID-19 lockdown

Breakwater, written by playwright Valerie Methot and a youth group from Some Assembly Theatre Company, follows six youth who face the effects of isolation and mental health struggles from a symbolic world-wide flood. This worldwide flood was something that was added to the narrative.

“The flood wasn’t always the story, it was discovered at the very first group scriptwriting workshop that we had in early November,” says Methot.

Some Assembly Theatre Company along with Roundhouse Youth Theatre Action Group (RHYTAG) will be presenting a new digital play, Breakwater, on Wed. June 30, with additional shows July 8 and July 11.

Pre-pandemic workshops

The project was originally called The Ripple Effect of Self-talk, started in a pre-pandemic world. Methot had been having conversations with a diverse group of young people about their personal mental health. It was clear to Methot the new play would focus on youth mental health, especially since there still seems to be a stigma surrounding youth and mental health.

Breakwater, a multimedia theatre production, follows six youths facing isolation. | Photo by Gaetan Nerincx

“I still hear some people say, ‘Oh, they should just get over it,’ or ‘They are imagining things,’ or ‘They just want attention,’ and that strikes a chord with me,” she says.

The tenacious spirit of everyone involved was tested because of the lockdown and the pandemic. Along with losing some of their funding, they also lost access to the Roundhouse Community Center because it was set up as an emergency center.

“It was really sad for us because we did not know if the project would continue to move forward,” says Methot.

She did, however, continue to speak to the young people that were a part of the project, and it became clear that with the pandemic, their mental health was just placed under more strain and that a play like Breakwater was more needed than before.

“I still had conversations with young people on the phone and on Zoom. A lot of vulnerable youth find it challenging to communicate virtually,” says Methot.

The conversations carried on in any way they could, but the creative process paused for a while during the pandemic. However, in November 2020 the group could once again meet in person as long as the new safety protocols were followed. Once back together the group made up of youth and industry professionals were able to successfully create Breakwater.

Breakwater

Methot feels it is time communities start to listen to young people when they want to talk about their mental health, and so the original idea of the new play started to take shape. However, when the pandemic hit, everything changed.

During their brainstorming workshops, it became clear to Methot that water was used in a variety of ways when discussing mental health with her group of youth collaborators. This made it a very easy choice to make water a symbol for COVID-19.

Playwright Valerie Methot. | Photo by Jeremy Baxter

“It is more tangible. If water gets on you it is going to affect you immediately. It is more relatable and it is more visual,” she says.

Instead of having to deal with a virus, the characters in the play can not leave their apartment because there is a flood outside.

With no live shows anywhere in the cards for 2020, some funding resources started to go away. Regardless of these set backs Methot and the Some Assembly Theatre Company kept moving forward with the project.

“BC Arts Council and the City of Vancouver started new funding programs. We were able to get funding from them, and they are a big reason why we were able to move forward,” says Methot.

Along with funding from other sources like Click Foundation, Telus, Vancouver Port Authority, Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Center, the digital play found new life. A few struggles had to be overcome, but nothing it seems could stop this story from being told.

“At the end of January, we started our rehearsals. Thankfully, we had our safety plan in place and we were able to make it happen,” says Methot.

For more information, please visit www.someassembly.ca.

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