Elevated Grounds
 
_We were performing at the Royal Ontario Museum, for a group of Toronto District School Board Students coming together to talk about Mental Health. It was an awesome performance. Awesome!!! Everyone did amazing, and the crowd was immaculate.  I liked how they were sooo attentive and so very much into everything that was happening. I believe that they truly enjoyed it.There were a group of young teenage boys that I was enthralled with. They were so into the play, and commentating very actively, which I enjoy. I enjoy audiences that get out of themselves when they're watching us perform. I feed off of the energy not only from our cast performance but from the audience as well. I enjoy when there is a lot of audience participation. We also had an extremely successful talk back session with this group. An awesome kick off from the day. I loved it.
 
_The week leading up to our performance on friday for the legislature panel for mental health was hectic. There were so many changes and rearranges, we had new lines, and the whole cast were given new roles to play. It was crunch time. The venue didn't promise a great stage but instead a makeshift one. We really had to be flexible and patient as the frustration and tiredness kicked in day after day. I was recovering from a cold and everyday for rehearsal I tired to give it my best.
 
_Today was the day! I was very nervous and lacking sleep because I was up worrying about my voice and also of the seriousness of the situation. We were given the opportunity to speak for the mental health of canadian children in foster care. These were the people who are able to make that change, these are the people who influence the politicians to write the bill for mental health. We had to make them feel and see what its like to live in fear of your mind and fear of lack of knowledge of what happens to you when you turn 18 in foster care. I am 20, and only now am I moving out. I have the skills to take care of myself. I know Canada's system and I have the support system in place to help me. These kids are just into their adult hood. With no one to turn too. No where to live even. How can you turn a blind eye to this? I was fortunate to experience this life changing event and to receive a standing ovation from the whole panel and audience. We had done more than our jobs. I am positive we had implement changes.
 
_Bellville was exhausting!  Despite the energy drain, it was an experience that was unique. This was an opportunity for me to experience something different.  This is precisely why I love the Elevated Grounds experience.  It takes to you a different place, LITERALLY!  It also opens your mind to different perspectives.  I find myself learning something new with each character and performance.  My only regret is that I wish I had the opportunity to engage the youth we performed for on a more personal, interactive level.  I would like to know what they thought of our performance.  Did they identify with anything?  Is there something they think we can improve on?  Was it effective?  Believable?  How rela was I?  Perhaps a 30 minute workshop after our performance or a meet and greet of sorts would have achieved this.  It is possible that there are members of the audience may have had questions or comments but were hesitant to express it in front of their peers during our talk back. 
 
_We tossed around ideas and brainstormed for our upcoming performance at the Ontario legislature.  This is a pretty big deal.  I think it is important for our politicians to recognize the importance of programs like Elevated Grounds.  What better way than with a strong performance.  Mental illness affects us all, even if at an arms-length level.  I think going to the Ontario legislature will, even on a small scale, help in the fight for awareness about issues surrounding mental illness.  Obviously one performance is not going to result in dramatic change, but perhaps it will pique the interest of some of our MPPs, enough to get them to stop and think about whether their politics and advocacy is sensitive to the plight of the mentally ill.  Now that would be something! 
 
_I would like to speak with youth directly affected by mental illness.  For example, visiting and interviewing youth at a shelter or those on the street or even ones that have stable homes, but were once homeless, would allow us to gain a different, more nuanced appreciation for the people we portray.  This would also further motivate our performances and help us send a more passionate, forceful message about the ravages and triumphs of mental illness.   I think one has to necessarily have some sort of appreciation for the life of a mentally ill person to really bring the characters to life.  If this is lacking, I think it ultimately shows in the performance.  I suspect much of the cast, including myself, have had our share of experiences with friends or family who have been mentally ill or have been through some sort of serious, emotional crisis.  Mental illness really does touch everyone at some point in their lives.  I sometimes wonder about the friends I have had over the years, some with whom I have no longer have contact.  Where are they now?  How are they doing?  Have they overcome the challenges they faced because of their mental health issues?  I would love to know how they have progressed since we last spoke.  Knowledge of the experience of others is invaluable to a performer.  More specifically, knowing how mental illness affects someone on an individual level really helps us understand that we are not just engaging in a performance, we are bringing awareness to a topic that, despite the efforts of many, is still shrouded in mystery, surrounded by taboo and sometimes approached with disdain.
 
_Our performance at John Polanyi Collegiate Institute allowed us to touch base at home and perform for an audience we are familiar with.  I did notice, though, that when I looked into the audience, I did not see many youth.  In fact, much of the audience was composed of mature adults.  This initially worried me because I feel youth are our target audience.  When it comes to social issues, I think youth are the vehicles for change.  Therefore, it only makes sense, I think, that we aim to reach as many youth as possible through our performances.  This is not to say that a more mature crowd is not welcome; I just wished I had seen more youth in the audience.  When I perform for a youthful audience, there is a sense of accomplishment because I know, on some level, some of those youth got the message.  That said, I do admit that my perspective has changed slightly.  I realized that a mature crowd is more able to vocalize or articulate their thoughts; we are more likely to receive feedback that is instrumental to our ability to effectively review our performances.  I have gotten used to the testimonials we receive after our performances; it is important that, as a cast, we understand that we sometimes share in the moment of an audience member experiencing an emotional release. Such things remind us of why we do what we do. Sure, we may not always get the laughs out of an older crowd that we do from youth, but sometimes it is refreshing to have those few courageous adults come up to us and reflect on our performance.  Truly invaluable.
 
_We started one rehearsal with some improvising exercises. I was late coming in (never a good way to start).  Walking in on the exercise, I had no idea what was going on.  Half the cast was “making” a sand castle and the other half were arguing. After being explained what was taking place, I observed the cast again and sort of figured it out (as best I could).  Eventually the exercise came to a close because it had run its course.  I should be very good at improvising by this point, given my drama background.  However, no matter how many classes you take, improvising will always be a challenging exercise in expression.  Sure one can have a “knack” for improvising; I like to think that I am OK at it.  Still, that does not mean you can ever be complacent or get too confident.   It keeps you grounded while reminding you why performing is so much fun.  The adrenaline rush that comes with improvising is hard to beat.
 
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_One of the many things I have learned while being part of Elevated Grounds is acknowledging my audience by adapting the storyline, characters and sometimes even the delivery of my lines to that particular audience.  For example, we found ourselves performing not for teenagers but for people in suits.  This ability to change and respond is important to a successful performance.  Having an overflow of emotions is something we have become used to by this point.  I cherish every compliment and positive gesture that comes my way after a performance. I try to keep myself grounded and modest and not let anything get to my head.  The moment this happens, my performance will suffer.  With every performance, I always walk away feeling that certain aspects of it could have been done differently or better.  Of course, while I am in the moment, I do not think about this.  I am constantly in awe of how my mind and body function before, during, and after a performance. Before a performance, I feel like I am having a minor anxiety attack.  Sweaty palms, a slightly faster pulse, and some good old butterflies greet me before I take the stage.  This works in my favour for this particular play because my character actually suffers from anxiety.  Of course, the anxiety I experience is much more different from my character whose issues are more of a serious nature.  Despite being a performer for years now, I am never calm before the performance.  During the performance, I am in a different place, in a different body, speaking out of a different mind.  After a performance I am relaxed and satisfied (well, most of the time).  Sure, I sometimes cannot wait for a performance to be over with when I am faced with perspiration and butterflies.  But then I remember how I feel during and afterwards.  Performing is a thrill that never gets old.  How wonderful it is that I get to this and help tell the stories of some of the most misunderstood people of our society.  For this I am very grateful to Elevated Grounds.  They gave me the chance to do something meaningful with my passion for acting.