I am the Black Dog

It was well over a year ago that I swapped a few emails with Mr Matthew Johnstone author and illustrator of ‘I Had a Black Dog…his name was depression.’ By the end of that late Sunday evening transference, we’d both decided that making a piece of theatre out of this wonderfully economic book would be a great idea. Some how I’d put myself up for doing it. This was unusual for me…and sure enough, when Mr Johnstone agreed to let me have a go…I had a few days wrapped in my black blanket!
We’ve done a lot of the leg work already. We soul-searched for an idea, wrote it up in the form of a proposal, sought funding, had meetings, secured funding, created and toured a scratch performance at five different venues and created some outreach workshops to help raise awareness. There was more to it than that, but I’m trying not to waffle.
I will say that we wanted to tour the scratch to see what reaction it would receive from a different demographic of audience. I think we achieved that. Ish…

I remember one conversation that I had during this period.
“Brilliant! A play about Mental Health in Peterborough. Yep, I can see it. They need that kind of thing there. Will you be taking it to…erm…well you know…for want of a better word, will you be taking it other POOR places?”

Again, I wrapped myself in my black blanket! I am from Peterborough. But the thought of a man from Knightsbridge whom I know really well was burning in my mind at this particular moment. He is particularly well off and suffers terribly. Ignorance about this subject being a working class problem deserves seriously looking at during our process.

Still we did it, we toured the scratch, appeared on BBC Radio and we went out and delivered our workshops. We did it with delicacy, sensitivity and curiosity. It felt like a generous time although that is for someone else to comment. We felt that we, (our theatre company) in both our creative and personal ideas were ‘open.’ This was and is very important to us. This production has to be accessible.

Where to now… will this production become an important piece of work in the reduction of stigma (which is still rife.) Could it play it’s part in enlightening many dark clouds for many beautiful people?

Or will it just be a well intended creative outlet for us in our struggle as a fledgling theatre company?
I know which one I’m going for. It’s a beautiful struggle and If I am to play The Black Dog…and become my own black dog…well, it’s clear to see that there is more to this than simply creating a piece of theatre. That is for sure!! (On writing that last sentence, I awkwardly looked up to see if my blanket was wafting about in the room.) It isn’t.

So…The Arts Council…(shiver!!)
I’m not very good at asking people for anything so asking an Arts Council (people who are in charge) for a sizeable chuck of money to make this all a reality is worrying to say the least.
We are used to commission based contracts. (We want this doing…can you do it? Right…how much?) That kind of thing.

This project can’t be that unfortunately. We are certainly not the holder of the silver bullet that would break this dark subject wide open and bring it crashing to it’s knees. No one within the NHS has been to see us and said…”We want to cure all depression, can you do it? Right how much would you charge for that??”

What I can tell you is that I have seen, heard and played with many people who think that we (Small Nose) are doing something right. And some of those people were within the NHS. More importantly many of those people knew what they were talking about – having lived it!

Our process is based on John Wrights pleasure principle; ‘Finding fun and sustaining it until we all go home.’ Our ideas come from the Philippe Gaulier hand book. (Actually there isn’t a hand book – and the books that there are can be a little confusing – ‘Pardon Philippe!’) But the simple bits – Philippe’s ideas on clown – a level of play that allows complete freedom – is pulsing through our veins as we walk on.

A depressed clown filling in an Arts Council Application. You can see my dilemma.
The clown in me is curious. It is honest and can only tell the truth. This is where I am. This is where we are with this project.
If this bid is successful, we will create the full length version of the show next September. It will open in October and run at The New Wolsey Studio Theatre in Ipswich. We think (and this is new information today) that we might play two other venues. Peterborough – as that is where our company is based – and one other. The aim – to invite other venues who will invite this into their programming for 2016.

If this bid is not successful, we will create the full length version of the show next September. It will open in October and run…you get the idea!!
As the momentum builds and the storm gathers…we will remain open. We will bring people together. We are not asking for a national melt down. A sobbing nation finally owning up to the darkest of days. But how about this…

On writing to a few friends and explaining what I was up too (we keep in touch, but have moved all over the world) I received an email from one of my best friends. I don’t have to go into detail but simply put I know him very well. We’ve never discussed it. His email said… “Me too Mark! And thanks for sharing.”

We are doing all that we can to make this bid as strong as it can be. All within a certain amount of delicacy. Not fluff. This isn’t about fluff. I am not fluffy.
But I don’t think you can push this production into peoples faces either. I’ll explain…

I was at a friends house. I’d been feeling sad for a few days. I was used to it. We were talking about running. I run. Far. Then all of a sudden… “Mark, take this away with you and have a read. I think you’ll get a lot from it.” She slid a book across the table. I put the book in my bag. I didn’t look at it for two weeks. Eventually I did. Finally I had a name for this strange atmosphere that I carried around with me. I had been suffering with depression. The book…”I Had a Black Dog…’

That is the background to the rise of The Black Dog. Where it came from, how it came about and what we as Small Nose are aiming to do with it.

These pages are now aimed at documenting our progress.

I will also give a personal account of what is going on for me as I prepare to become the Black Dog. My Black Dog?? I’ll throw some things in the air, I’ll be honest and I’ll tell you what I’ve encountered. There will be twists and turns. No fluff. I might swear. I might cry. But it is coming…

I will leave you now with this…

I went to cafe Nero yesterday – Wednesday 19th November 2014 – I sat reading my book. In my book It says that depression is a selfish disease. “Oh – fucking great!” I thought… “Not only am I depressed, but I’m selfish as well.” Oh well…at least my cafe Nero loyalty card is now full. Every cloud hey…
Much love and light.
BD (Paw Print!)

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