Blinkered workshops to take place in Seattle
Patricia Byrne will travel to Seattle in May to do Blinkered workshops on suicide awareness. Blinkered premiered last year and has since had a very successful seven-week theatrical tour of Ireland.
The play tells the story of Ryan, a young man dealing desperately with feelings of isolation, frustration and loneliness and his overwhelming thoughts of taking his own life. He is surrounded in some scenes by his family who initially have no idea how he is feeling. When he is alone in his room, speaking directly to the audience, he delivers a heart-breaking monologue of a young man on the brink.
On the tour of Ireland the play was well received by audiences and Patricia puts much of this down to the director Shauna Kelpie, the cast – Patrick McBrearty, Gemma Walker, Cathy Brennan-Bradley and Pat Lynch, and the designers and crew who worked on the production.
It was during the preparation for this play last year that it was seen by a group from Roosevelt High School in Seattle, Washington on an exchange trip with Oakgrove Integrated College in Derry. This school had suffered two pupil suicides in previous years and teachers felt that the sensitive, yet direct and thought-provoking approach of the play would be a powerful way to open up communication with their students back home.
Janine Magidman, Teacher from Roosevelt High School, commented "Youth suicide is a troubling and tragic concern in societies from Northern Ireland all the way across the world to Seattle. Our group of Seattle teens was deeply moved by our first experience with the Sole Purpose production of 'Blinkered' in Derry, in February of 2016. Traveling teachers and our pupils took strength from the message that this painful human issue must be discussed openly to bring healing. We at Roosevelt High School in Seattle had been shocked by two suicides in two years and 'Blinkered' gave us permission to bring the issue front and center.”
Patricia Byrne, the play’s writer and Artistic Director of Sole Purpose, will travel to Seattle in May to carry out three weeks of workshops with students at Roosevelt High School prior to a major mental health awareness event in the city. While in the US Patricia will also travel to New York to a series of meetings set up by the Northern Ireland Bureau in a bid to secure future bookings for the show. She is being supported on this project by the Arts Council for NI International Development Award.
“This is such a hugely important topic to discuss openly yet often the lines of communication within families are closed. I’ve gone through difficult times myself and I felt I had something to say but it was essential that the play was supported by a number of mental health and suicide prevention professionals. They helped every step of the way – initially with research and then reading through the first drafts” Patricia said.
The play was developed with guidance from Conor McCafferty (Manager at Zest NI), Siobhan O’Neill (Professor of Mental Health Sciences Ulster University), Barry McGale (Consultant and Trainer with Suicide Prevention UK) and Bridie Sheridan who has 25 years’ experience working with young people on suicide prevention.
Patricia felt that a play about suicide should be accompanied by an interactive workshop in which people could explore how this issue could be directly addressed.
“In the workshop the audience can make suggestions on ways that they think this young man, Ryan, can be helped. The actors then act out these ideas and a mental health professional then talks through how these ideas may or may not be effective. It brings things out into the open that are often left unsaid. We skirt around the word ‘suicide’ afraid to say it in case we give the person ideas or cause upset. But the truth is, often, asking someone if they feel suicidal can be a relief to them and allow them to talk about how they are feeling,” she said.
Through the play, it looks at issues that Ryan is feeling: grief on the anniversary of his grandfather’s death, trauma passed down through the family, bullying, social media, isolation, austerity and the frustration of not being able to get a fulfilling job.
Fiona Gallagher, a teacher in Donegal commented “I saw Blinkered with a group of my senior secondary school students and to say I was BLOWN AWAY is an understatement. This performance is such a powerful, realistic and heart wrenching portrayal of a young person's suicide and the devastating effects it has on the family left behind. My students and I were truly touched by the performance and although the subject matter is dark we felt a sense of optimism and positivity after the workshop that made us all feel that there is light at the end of every tunnel no matter how dark it may initially seem.”
Janine Magidman added “We look forward to welcoming Ms. Byrne to our city and school in Seattle. Her work in our school promises an infusion of energy around the issue of youth suicide and family dynamics. The language of depression and loss is universal, in any accent."
Patricia Byrne, writer and Artistic Director of Sole Purpose
Patrick McBrearty and Gemma Walker
Patrick McBrearty and Pat Lynch
Cathy Brennan Bradley
Images by Gav Connolly