Bitter Medicine – a dose of schizophrenia that everyone can learn from

Published on: August 8, 2014

Filled Under: SummerWorks Festival

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Based on description alone, BITTER MEDICINE is one of the most interesting shows at this year’s SummerWorks festival. Adapted from their graphic memoir, two brothers explain the impact schizophrenia has had on their family.
I work at CAMH so I may be biased, but this is an endlessly fascinating subject and this show is sure to make you rethink your ideas about mental illness.

1. First of all – congratulations on taking on the often fraught subject of schizophrenia. After you initially tackled it with a graphic memoir, what made you feel the need to turn it into a piece for the theatre?
Creating the book was an exceptionally rewarding experience. It was wonderful working with my brother on this text, the publishers were great, and the public’s reception was very warm. But…not everyone reads books, nor did everyone know about the book, and I felt there was another audience that would appreciate this story. As well, theatre is a medium that has the potential to bring an audience to a more immediate, more dynamic place than a book can.   

2. How did you turn it from a static thing into a living performance? What can you bring to a live performance that you couldn’t in the memoir?
I rearranged the structure of the narrative and shortened it. In the book there is a longer and more detailed reflection on the impact of medication, and the ghettoization of mental illness which there wasn’t space to include in the theatre presentation.

3. What’s the creative journey been like for you as a team, as individuals, and also for your fellow family members?
It’s been exciting –  and at times a little intense. Our working schedule has been very, very compressed and we’ve had to utilized every minute that was available to us.

4. What’s your ideal outcome for this play? What do you want it to do for the audience?
The information that the public is exposed to about mental illness is very flawed. I want the public to arrive at a better and more complete understanding what it’s like to live with a mental illness.

As well, I know that there are many, many people living with schizophrenia, who feel completely isolated.  After my brother and I wrote Bitter Medicine, people would contact us and say, “We thought we were the only ones who had experienced that. We didn’t know who to talk to, or where to turn.” Part of the reason for creating this play is to reach out to those folks.

5. What’s the reception been like for the show so far? What’s the plan for it after SummerWorks?
Our intention is to take Bitter Medicine back to Calgary and present it again, perhaps in collaboration with another company, perhaps at another festival.

Bitter Medicine is on at the Lower Ossington Theatre (100 Ossington Ave) as part of the SummerWorks Performance Festival until Aug. 17th. For tix click here. 


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