Senior Youth Theatre member Cameron explores the mental health benefits of engaging with theatre

With artists and communities across Coventry coming together to celebrate arts and health as part of this week’s People Like Us festival, Senior Youth Theatre member Cameron has been reflecting on the mental health benefits of theatre, and how his group have been exploring mental health in our Zoom-based Telling Stories on (the Small) Screen project. 

 

When we started our Telling Stories on (the Small) Screen project, mental health emerged very quickly as a theme. Anxiety, depression and loneliness all feel very relevant to the current situation, and we’ve been looking specifically at issues such as lack of motivation, ability to cope with change and the difficulty of remaining positive and preventing natural negativity in the face of such extreme circumstances.

It’s a subject that is important to me personally as well. The anxiety that I experience often makes it difficult for me to deal with certain situations, such as conversing with large groups of people. Lately, the disruption that lockdown has caused to our normal routines has also been very challenging.

As well as allowing us to explore these issues through our characters, Telling Stories on (the Small) Screen has really helped me to work through these real-life challenges. The project has provided us with structure, not only by being on a set day at a set time each week, but also in terms of what we do in the sessions themselves. This structure can help with mental health by providing us with purpose.

Since the group is quite small, it’s been easier for me to be part of group conversations without feeling anxious, because I can still feel like an individual instead of just one of many. I have found that the sessions have helped me to become better at interacting with people, like a form of exposure therapy.

I think the arts are vital in times of difficulty, because they can help you go on a journey together as a group when we might otherwise feel isolated, helping us to discover the experiences and feelings we have in common. Performing arts in particular provide a platform for people with all sorts of different personalities, backgrounds and ideas to come together in a caring, all-embracing and supportive community.

Prior to lockdown, when loneliness was not as widespread a problem as it is now, conversation with like-minded people was something we took for granted. Now it feels like part of our very survival. The arts can also offer an amazing form of escapism, allowing us to imagine being someone different for a short time.

Even outside of extraordinary situations like lockdown, there are huge benefits to engaging with the arts, especially for young people. Theatre not only provides entertainment for the general public, but also helps impressionable teens to stay on the right path. Alongside acting skills, it teaches us essential life skills like teamwork, respect and problem-solving – all vital for preparing us for the workforce and our future lives.

It also gives us a space to express ourselves and grow in an environment where we are not judged. Since joining the Belgrade’s youth theatre, I feel like I have not only become a better actor, but also a better version of myself.

From the outside, performing might just seem like creating characters and putting on plays, but for me it has been so much more than that. For me, performing is a way of life. Daily life is often difficult, but on stage I can really thrive. I have found that the arts community does not judge you for who you are, but celebrates you for who you could become.

 

At the Belgrade Theatre, our team have been working hard to continue engaging with youth and community groups during lockdown, even as we face the greatest crisis our industry has seen in a lifetime. With over 70% of our income having vanished overnight, we are relying on diminishing reserves and the generosity of donors and supporters to continue with this vital work. To help secure a future for our theatre and for groups like Cameron’s, please consider making a donation to us online.