The Necessary Stage’s Acting Mad returns: Setting the stage for mental health awareness
The Necessary Stage is presenting Acting Mad from 25 to 28 Aug at the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, bringing interviews with actors about the reality of mental health issues to the stage.

The Necessary Stage’s Acting Mad returns: Setting the stage for mental health awareness

When the cast of Acting Mad takes to the stage at the Esplanade Theatre Studio from 25 to 28 Aug, they will be actors who are not so much acting – but telling true, real-life stories.

It is a verbatim play that collects interviews with 20 actors who have experienced or are going through mental health issues. Mental illness is no respecter of persons – it hits everyone, including arts practitioners.

Just like its first presentation in 2019, The Necessary Stage’s latest iteration of Acting Mad will put audiences face-to-face with the reality and omnipresence of a topic that often remains taboo, and something that many still struggle silently with.

This production, commissioned by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay for The Studios 2022, takes in new interview texts and testimonies and more significantly, actors’ journeys in the difficult years of the pandemic since the 2019 show.

Directed by The Necessary Stage’s resident playwright and Cultural Medallion recipient Haresh Sharma, it features actors Ghafir Akbar, Karen Tan, Masturah Oli, and Tan Guo Lian Sutton as performers.

They can be expected to present the unpleasant, difficult, and even ugly parts of our everyday realities, set against the trying backdrop of the pandemic years, with the same raw emotions and honesty as with any other production.

The A List spoke to Sharma ahead of the production to learn more about the story behind the play, and how the pandemic has inspired this iteration.

In the upcoming restaging of Acting Mad, playwright Haresh Sharma lets audiences in on how some of the original interviewees have fared in the past three years, and how the pandemic has affected actors and their loved ones.
In the upcoming restaging of Acting Mad, playwright Haresh Sharma lets audiences in on how some of the original interviewees have fared in the past three years, and how the pandemic has affected actors and their loved ones.

This is a new iteration of Acting Mad, which was first presented in 2019. What can the audience expect to be similar, or different from that production? 

The topic and themes in both versions remain the same, the main difference is that this restaging is taking place three years after the first. And it has been a tumultuous 3 years. So I decided to re-interview some of the people we initially spoke to. I wanted to catch up with them and find out how they were doing.

The play will still be similar in terms of how it deals with mental health issues. I believe that the stories and characters will resonate with the audience. The play has also been updated to include how actors have been affected by COVID-19. Another important element of the work is that it also includes scenes with family members and loved ones. It’s important to show that everyone can make a difference when someone they care about is struggling with their mental health.

​​How did you go about deciding who to feature, who to interview, and who to talk to?

We put out an open call in 2019. When we posted the notice that we were looking to interview actors, many came forward. We interviewed all of them. To me, it was an indication that they were willing and wished to share their stories; they wanted to be heard and they believed in the project.

Actors Tan Guo Lian Sutton, Masturah Oli, and Ghafir Akbar in rehearsal mode.
Actors Tan Guo Lian Sutton, Masturah Oli, and Ghafir Akbar in rehearsal mode.

Mental health has become a far more talked-about topic, given all that has happened in the last two years around the world. Has this had any bearing on how you approached the play this time?

Some of the interviewees talked about how social media impacts them, both in positive and negative ways. Some people, despite going through mental health changes, are willing to talk about their experiences on social media. However, often the responses can be hateful. The play looks at the different types of pressure these actors face, in the theatre community, in their families, and also in the public arena.

What were some of the things that have stood out especially for you, as you went about putting this play together?

Schools play a crucial role in mental health education. Students should feel safe and supported being in a school environment. There should be opportunities for students to share how they feel, for example, if they are too overwhelmed or too stressed, or if they are being bullied. More counsellors are also needed in schools, to proactively deal with the students and their mental health issues.

What were some of your deepest personal reflections through putting this play together?

I feel that it’s time to re-focus our values as a society, starting with our mental health and well-being. We should prioritise mental health education and honest conversations — in our schools, our communities, and even our families. When we learn, when we are empowered, we can affect change and remove, once and for all, the negativity surrounding mental illness.

Get tickets to Acting Mad here.

(Photo: Tuckys Photography, The Necessary Stage)

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