Following on from our Neurodiversity Celebration Week post last week, Polly Wiseman got in touch with their own experiences in this field. The pieces add further fuel to Giverny Masso's fire, so we asked if they'd be happy to share their thoughts with you.
Their plays include: Damage Control – Playground Theatre and Riverside Studios, Femme Fatale – Fireraisers, South East tour, Somewhere In England – Eastern Angles, tour, Manchester Sound – Home MCR, nominated for a Manchester Theatre Award, The Power - short-listed for the Nick Darke Award, Bright - Soho Theatre, Trying It On - Royal Court Theatre Upstairs and BBC Fiction Lab, The Pinball Master - National Theatre Studio, Stormin’ Jack Norman - Theatre 503.
I enjoyed Giverny Masso’s piece on celebrating neurodiversity in theatre and it really spoke to my own experiences.
I’m a neurodivergent theatre-maker, advised on diagnosis in my 20s never to tell anyone or I wouldn’t work. It’s only now, in my 40s, I’m reassessing the strengths I bring to projects and looking for collaborators to make a Mood Fest to celebrate difference.
Neurodiversity is hot right now. We get a cute little icon: a rainbow infinity sign. Having a broken brain is endless colourful fun & now we can buy the badge!
I’m Bipolar. Like Carrie Fisher, Vivien Leigh, Stephen Fry, Kurt Cobain & maybe Van Gogh, my moods go up to 11 & down to minus 11: it’s the creative’s mental illness! At least, Neurotypical people tell me it’s the source of my creativity. But plenty of accountants, dentists & plumbers (professions where NOBODY wants you to get creative) have Bipolar disorder too. If we’re overrepresented in the arts, it could be because we’ve chosen careers to accommodate our ups & downs.
Whilst upswings do bring me endless ideas & some are gold, some of them are frankly deranged – but once I emerge from an episode, I’ve learnt to be a good editor.
It’s part of who I am. I always say I am bipolar, rather than ‘I have bipolar’ - but it’s not something I chose, any more than I chose blue eyes. I’m not ashamed of my place under the ND umbrella - but to be asked to celebrate it feels weird.
When diagnosed at 19, whilst training as an actor at RADA, I was told never to tell anyone or I wouldn’t work. I took this as a challenge: my first play was autobiographical & about bipolar. Ironically, Bright, produced by Soho Theatre, got me an agent & launched my writing career But truth be told, it has more often hindered my career. People assume I’m unreliable, unprofessional & that favourite descriptor of AFAB people - difficult.
Really, it’s made me adaptable, imaginative & empathetic: I just sometimes need to work in a different way. When high, you ride the wave, pull the all-nighter, have the 2-in-the-morning-courage that galvanises the team. When low, you hope you’ve built enough good will that somebody will cover. But there must be a better way.
I’m collaborating with a wonderful producer to find a new method of creating to suit all brains, with expert input from my sister, a consultant psychologist working in the NHS. The ultimate aim is to make a Mood Fest, an arts festival exploring ups, downs and whether it’s us or the system that’s disordered. I want more artists and creatives to join the party. Let’s get together & own this thing & fight for each other, before Capitalism milks it dry.
From feeling a sense of shame about my diagnosis, I now believe the future is divergent – and I hope Mood Fest will be the start of something exciting. If you’re mood-disordered and creative and up for helping to make the festival happen – join me. Who’s in?
If you'd like to speak more with Polly about Mood Fest why not drop them a line.
Giveny continues this theme as guest editor in our upcoming blog posts but if you also have any experiences you'd like to share we'd love to hear from you.
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