The Discover/Recover Theatre Project – A Face in the Crowd, promoted by Wexford Mental Health Association, Mental Health Ireland, Regional Office for Suicide Prevention and educational – and partnering with WWETB and Waterford Healing Arts Trust – was successfully hosted in the Theatre Royal in Waterford city for the county’s secondary schools, YouthReach and WIT students.

The initiative took place on March 21st and 22nd, with workshops taking place throughout the week ending on March 25th in the involved schools and educational institutions.

Performing ‘A Face In The Crowd’ at the Theatre Royal.

It is a drama educational project aimed to increase mental health awareness, literacy and support for help-seeking.

It does so through live drama performances (in community theatres) and post-performance workshops (in secondary schools).

The Project, regionally funded by the Healthy Ireland Community and the Mental Health Fund through Waterford City Council, was brought to six schools, two YouthReach and WIT – Psychiatric Nursing and Social Care students.

The management team believes that there are no better words to describe this Project than those used by the students and teachers involved.

Student RK said:“Face in the Crowd” was a thought-provoking play about peoples’ personal stories of their mental health. It showed the watchers the different mental illnesses and how they affected the people who had them. It was an interesting play, with intense topics such as death and suicide. The re-cap of the play when the workers came in was very helpful and informative about helplines and signs to watch out for so you can make sure that everyone, including yourself isn’t mentally unwell. They destigmatised talking about mental health and encouraged us to really think about play and the events that happened within it. I personally think everyone should watch the play because it is very educational and eye-opening to the effects of mental illness.

Ellie Long, Teacher at Saint Angela Ursuline, Waterford, said: Our transition year students attended “A Face in the Crowd – Discover Recover Theatre project” and both students and staff were moved by the humanistic approach used to present a powerful and important drama on Mental Health. We found that, not only did the performance and the workshop afterwards help to reduce the stigma surrounding Mental health but provided our girls with a very powerful and honest message that help is out there and recovery happens. There are always better days ahead, they just need to find someone and talk!

As a teacher, I am aware of the power of theatre and drama as an educational tool and I certainly felt that although the subject matter was incredibly sensitive, it was delivered in an honest and moving manner that everyone could connect with. The girls were moved by the authentic and real monologues that were delivered by highly skilled actors and the workshop was provided by professionals trained in Mental Health advocacy. This is a project that I most certainly would recommend to all schools. I look forward to working with this group again.

Background information

In 2020, a social impact study of the project demonstrating the effectiveness and safety of the intervention was completed. To date over 3000 young people and adults have experienced the testimonial theatre performance of “A Face in the Crowd” across Wexford, Carlow and Dublin.

Performing ‘A Face In The Crowd’ at the Theatre Royal.

In 2015, the Occupational Therapy Department within the HSE-Wexford Adult Mental Health Services in conjunction with the Wexford Mental Health Association embarked on a project to create a forum for the sharing of local individuals’ stories with lived experiences of mental health difficulties. Both from a therapeutic viewpoint, but also as a means of using the medium of storytelling to reduce stigma, increase awareness in relation to mental health difficulties, and promote help-seeking. The outcome of these workshops was a play, based on the stories, written by Niall O’Muiri, a Community Psychiatric Nurse entitled “A Face in the Crowd”.

Audience at the Theatre Royal

The core aim of the project

Throughout its development, Wexford Mental Health Association were aware of the accessibility and educational potential of the medium of drama and storytelling, in particular in relation to increasing understanding of the complex nature of mental health difficulties. To this end, the key aims of the play and its workshop are to:

  • Facilitate learning in relation to mental health difficulties.
  • Raise awareness in relation to mental health difficulties and recovery in a safe and meaningful way.
  • Promote the concept and role of seeking relevant support to recover from the crisis.

The model of the project is to invite participants to engage with the topic of mental health and suicide through the mediums of:

  1. A free live performance of “A Face in the Crowd”
  2. Supported by mental health education workshops in schools, youth reach and universities, and printed materials based on the drama content delivered by mental health professionals.

The Project is now regionally funded by the Healthy Ireland Community and the Mental Health Fund through Waterford City Council, and is being brought to schools and public audiences through partnerships with Mental Health Ireland, Regional Office for Suicide Prevention and educational partners WWETB and Waterford Healing Arts Trust.