Park Bench Players recognized for community contribution

By Sarah MacDonald

What do you get when you combine a hard-working group of people that are full of enthusiasm and a passion for reducing the stigmas associated with mental illness? The Park Bench Players.

The Players are an award-winning, collaborative education project involving Nova Scotia Health Authority working with university students, community volunteers and individuals who live with chronic and persistent mental illness.

Their three-act plays are developed from the first voice, lived experience of the six cast members.

To date, this extraordinary group has performed more than 50 shows across Canada, including 18 shows at St. Francis Xavier University (St. FX) for more than 1,100 students and faculty. Their continued relationship with St. FX is reflected in their ongoing partnership and collaboration.

The Players ability to inspire faculty and students contributed to the troupe receiving the 2015 Community Partner Recognition Award at St. FX University’s fall convocation on Dec. 5, 2015.

“Their performance creates the space in which we come to better understand and embrace the complexity of mental health as a conversation that involves each and every one of us,” said Dr. Chris Gilham of St. FX’s School of Education. “This performance exemplifies and enlivens an expression from the disability movement, ‘nothing about us without us’. The performance is an extremely powerful reminder that our understanding of mental health must not be reduced solely to signs, symptoms and medical diagnosis.”

In 2013, the Park Bench Players joined campus efforts to host a Mental Health Awareness Week. They participated in events, and held a performance for faculty and staff. What started as volunteer efforts to support Mental Health Awareness Week turned into an ongoing partnership with St. FX Service Learning and in particular, the St. FX B.Ed program. The B.Ed Service Learning students worked with the Park Bench Players to develop a teacher resource package that would support educators in schools with pre-show education material on mental illness, as well as post-show material and surveys to ensure continuous growth of the performance and a safety and educational component for schools taking in the Park Bench Players performance.

The Park Bench Players have taken a little break for the holidays but will be back on stage in 2016, with their performance, With a Little Help from My Friend, to continue promoting a safe space to talk openly about mental illness.