Normal? Festival Launch // Cardboard Citizens

The theme of Normal? Festival of the Brain 2017 is neuroplasticity – the possibility of changing our habits and behaviours. Held in the heart of Folkestone’s Creative Quarter, this meeting of the arts and health demonstrates how people can overcome the stress of isolation and become empowered through participating in a community. Launching Normal?, Folkestone Fringe emphasised the importance of connection, whilst Living Words asked, ‘Is anyone ‘normal’, and what does that mean? How do we change the brain and the way we use it?

Quarterhouse Theatre is excited by community participation, ensuring that many people who live and work in Folkestone have been involved in ideas, planning and events for the festival. A roots network of formal groups and informal connections has also developed beyond the many officially organised events. Together these help residents to feel involved, valued, and empowered to share their passions and talents, and to seek help when needed. It’s not unusual for social media posts to ask ‘Folkestone friends’ for emergency child care or specialist performance equipment.

A prime example of collaborative approach to exploring community themes was the weekend’s first theatrical production, staged by Cardboard Citizens, a company who specialise in forum theatre. Their stories are linked in rooted experience, and often acted out by those with that experience. Audience members are invited to demonstrate how the protagonists could have acted differently to promote a better outcome to the situation portrayed, alongside and enriching the post-show discussion. The play, A Fresh Start, featured Folkestone actors telling the story of Clare. Clare moves to Folkestone with her young daughter, and faces the challenges of poor housing, an aggressive neighbour, work on a zero hours contract and the search for affordable child care. She finds it hard to assert herself and to ask for help and becomes increasingly overwhelmed, isolated and distressed to the point where her mental health seems at risk. Audience reaction sympathetically highlighted Clare’s ineffectual behaviour, stemming from her lack of assertiveness and self-empowerment – issues that are surely familiar to many women. It was helpful to share ideas on how we can take control, where the limits to our power over our behaviour are and how such situations are influenced by external forces.

As Folkestone residents, many of us have experienced the contrast between a sense of isolation and the empowering benefits of getting involved and gaining support from the local community and organisations. The town’s Creative Quarter provides an open, positive environment not only for artists but all interested local people. Clare could have benefited, for instance, from the Folkestone Women’s Forum, which helps women to be better informed of their rights and to foster personal growth and empowerment. She could have practiced assertiveness at the Improv Gym for drama improvisation or made friends in the area’s many welcoming, intimate bars and cafes where, following the Cheers ideal, everyone knows your name. (FW)

- Faith Warn

Links Relevant to This Diagnosis:

Psychological benefits of community

International Women’s Forum

The Posh Club at Duckie

Folkestone Women’s Forum

Improv Gym

Cardboard Citizens