A bit of framing for this research-creation project, by Lindsay: I obtained ethics approval from the University of Alberta’s Research Ethics Board to conduct interviews and a collaborative creation process with people who have lived experience with psychiatric systems and/or mental distress. The knowledges generated by psychiatrized people are often subjugated ones (Foucault, 1969; 1976), and Mad studies projects prioritize the perspectives and experiences of those who experience mental distress and psychiatrization (Menzies, LeFrançois, & Reaume, 2013). As such, it was important to offer the opportunity for my collaborators’ ideas and words to be credited by name. Issues of confidentiality and anonymity were discussed, in the context of semi-public performance as well as written documentation. Collaborators were invited to use their own name or a pseudonym, and all collaborators determined how they wished to be named in our Facebook invitation to Mad Home, within the written document of this project, as well as on the website.
Interview with Ruth Ruth Stackhouse: I sought out interviews with Mad scholars, artists and activists from across the country who would not be able to participate directly in the collaborative creation process due to geographic distance. I sought interviews with artists and academics in Canada doing intersectional work around madness and mental distress, as well as race, poverty, queerness and trauma. This request was sent out by email to four individuals with whom I did not have ongoing personal relationships with, but who’s work I have read and been in conversation with. I received one response, and conducted an interview with Ruth Ruth Stackhouse in Toronto on March 9, 2017.
Ruth Ruth is a theatre artist, the director of the Friendly Spike Theatre Band, and an activist and organizer of Toronto Mad Pride. She has been working in Mad theatre and organizing since 1989, engaging these personal and community practices as forms of protest and celebration. She has previously written a Masters’ thesis titled The Friendly Spike Theatre Band and Mad/Disability Peoples’ Theatre in Toronto that has been a great source of insight for me as I move through this project (Stackhouse, 2013). I met her at her artists’ loft, a whimsical office with an overhead walkway packed with vibrant visual art, and we spoke together in person for approximately one hour. This interview was loosely focused on the experiences and generative possibilities of madness, Mad community, Mad organizing and Mad art-making. This interview was conducted before I began working with the group of collaborators in Edmonton. With consent from Ruth Ruth, I shared the content of this interview with those involved in the collaborative creation process.
Learnings from Ruth Ruth that informed Mad Home: Much of my discussion with Ruth Ruth resonated with me, and with the rest of the collaborators. When we began, I did not know how this interview would be integrated into our collaborative creation, but it undoubtedly sparked initial conversations that shaped some Mad Home content and processes. For example, Mad performance, Mad organizing and Mad living, for Ruth Ruth, are deeply individual as well as collective and political. Ruth Ruth stated: "what we do in our theatre is we try to express the barriers that we come up against on a routine basis. Many of the barriers are linked with poverty. And are systemic. There’s a lot of barriers like within the pension system... Many of the actors in our group are on ODSP [Ontario Disability Support Program], and experience the same barriers because of that, so it’s not because they’re labeled ‘schizophrenic’ it’s… the barriers. So, we work on that. And then also the individuals have an opportunity to express themselves personally. And, again, there’s a lot of commonalities, there’s a lot of people have had loss in their lives, a lot of people struggle with addictions. So, it’s just, it’s interesting but we’re in like, as far as political…it’s almost as if … we’ve all been spit out by the whale and we’re on the other side and we’re able to sight the oppressors." I took this to mean that for Ruth Ruth, Mad art making and performance is used to interrogate the systemic barriers encountered by this community, to foster a communal space for connection and reflection, and to express the specific experiences and imaginaries of those involved. These elements of Mad art making described by Ruth Ruth were woven throughout our process. Our work in Mad Home not only interrogated the barriers we encounter, but also celebrated the magnificent, deeply embodied, collaborative and relational survival tools we have gathered through being ‘spit out by the whale.’
Ruth Ruth also turned and returned to the use of madness as a noun, verb, adverb, or adjective rather than a specific identity or relationship to psychiatry. She stated: "Madness, to me, madness is not an isolated thing. Madness is ‘madly in love’ or ‘mad at the system’ so it fluctuates all over the place… when you say, ‘how’s madness acted out on stage,’ well, in a million different ways. Because it needs to be tagged with something. Like, ‘madness against the system’ or ‘Christian madness’ or ‘madly in love’ or ‘mad for this tremendous food that we’re eating’! Or, you know, whatever." Learning from Ruth Ruth, the term “Mad” has taken on expansive and deeply contextual meanings: a descriptor, a sensation, an emotion, a spark, a motivation, an action, a site of community collaboration. This sentiment is evident in our own ‘tagging’ of ‘Mad’ to ‘home’ in this project. Further, the value of food, and connection, and other practices of living were central to Ruth Ruth’s articulations of Mad processes. She notes that Mad organizing and art-making practices include “anything that involves expression… you can take that in and develop it. So, food. Food is a big thing. So, food preparation, community kitchens. The breaking of bread together. Gardening.” These encounters with life-as-art, sparked by both Ruth Ruth’s articulations and by our own histories of creation and collaboration, became vital components of Mad Home.
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During our time together, we spoke of sensuality, and nourishment, and the earth. Here is some of our dialogue: Lindsay: What is Mad beauty? What’s Mad, like, what does madness look like in ways that are satisfying to you, on stage or in life? Ruth Ruth: Uncontrolled. Lindsay: Yeah? Ruth Ruth: Yeah. I like that... just free. Free. Wild. Like, wild… beautiful. Beautiful. Lindsay: It’s, it’s not a traditional sense of beauty maybe? Or. Or is it? Ruth Ruth: Look at my hands okay. [shows me her hands]. I have arthritis. I’m not in pain. My hands can do the things I need them to do. Lindsay: Mmmhmmm Ruth Ruth: If you look in a garden and the twisty tree is the most beautiful, then why can’t my hands be the most beautiful?” I hold the image of the twisty tree, and the kind of grounding that this group nurtured, very dear to my heart now.