The Washing Up and its long term impact on my mental health – Nou Ra Guest Blog

Tnou ra teatowel

The Washing Up  started with a conversation between Nou Ra and Kate McCoy and Nou has written the songs, lots of the written bits and is also performing. She is massively talented and the show would not exist without her. Here is her take on it all.

I have always been a “creative” person. I started writing poems about ‘crystal caverns’ and ‘faeries’ when I was about 7 or 8, and singing little ditties with suitably childish titles like “We’re the Banana People” and “Unicorns are Rainbows”. I continued writing poems that I never read to anybody and I was a closeted singer, I would sing along to sad songs all throughout my youth. I came out the closet and began to sing in a band in my mid 20’s. I say all that to establish that I am not new to creative projects but Theatre is the latest medium I have worked with and my limited experience of theatre has been very “Serious”. Of the two projects I have been involved in, one discussed addiction and recovery and the other, austerity and its effects on the marginalised members of society.  “The Washing Up” project, however, is something I have NO experience of : A Devised Comedy.

Much like social pedagogy, I am still not entirely sure what A Devised Comedy is. (Sorry Robin).  It’s a process of creation by collaboration, well at least that’s what I think it is. I am sure that a real theatre person would have a more in depth explanation for you, But ultimately, it was a group of us coming together and really exploring what the washing up means to us and believe me, it goes deep. Everyone has their own opinion, memories and emotions connected to the simple act of washing dishes. We have had real life arguments about how to wash up. what kind of implement to use, and the age old debate of ‘to rinse….or not to rinse’ has left the room divided, no acting required! But it’s those moments that actually make us closer as a company, because the next thing you know we are joking and laughing about the absurdity of it all. 
One main thing I have learned during this process is about the physicality of comedy and acting. I wouldn’t call my self an actor (yet) but we have learnt an amazing amount of little tricks that actors use, one of my favourites is a warm up where you pretend your on a motorcycle and end up in fits of hysterical laughter. I can laugh on cue! The other thing that I have only finally begun to understand is why its called a ‘Play’ and why the actors are called ‘Players’, Theatre really is about having fun and acting lessons are really just playtime for adults. Over the last few months we have been blessed to have been taught and guided by guest directors, Tanushka Marah , Alex Cooke, Simon Magnuse and , Becca Manley . Each of them have their own unique styles but the constant is that we will be laughing and having fun within the first 10 minutes. A warm up exercise that is a game, will have us all playing along with carefree abandon like children. It’s a great release, and whatever stress or anxieties you may have in life, you get to forget about them for the time you are in class/workshops/rehearsal. I am actually out of my own head, not ruminating over the worry of the day, for those couple of hours. I really wish I had done this years ago. If you are reading this and have ever thought about joining a local drama group, Do It! Seriously, you can thank me later. You too will learn why I can’t look at The Rock, or Tom Hardy, or any big scary looking actor without imagining them playing like children during warm up games or rolling around on the ground pretending to be a garbage truck or a potato, all actors have done that at some point or another, 
However, the main joy I have gotten out of this experience is being able to vent my spleen on how much I hate the washing up and in one scene in particular called “A dirty reminder of the power of the patriarchy” I tackle the arcane and downright disgusting social expectations of ‘the woman should do the dishes’, as I grew up with that as a given in my house, and my bitterness has only grown with me. I hate washing up and by working on a play about it, I have noticed that my partner is finally doing his share. So it’s a win! 
The real take away from this experience is that the only limits to art and creativity are the ones we put on ourselves. Under Kate’s supreme tutelage and wise vision we have created a play about the washing up, which is something I never would have thought possible because………well, it sounds ridiculous! But in the world of theatre it seems, anything is possible, and nothing is ridiculous. 

My Creative Recovery – Julie Orchard

Julie blog

Today we have a guest blog from Julie Orchard, pictured in gold. Its all about her experience of creativity and recovery. Its great. Enjoy

My experience of ‘’ creative recovery ‘’.

I know it might sound over the top but creative recovery has given me reason to live. Not just exist.

It began when I had to get sober – alcohol had brought me to my knees as they say.  My life was on self-destruct. I needed help and I got it from the services provided by an organisation called Pavilions, and the AA and other fellowship meetings. These gave me a kick start and I continue to use them and their support. Through the people I met I was introduced to The Cascade Cafe. Fair priced food and the company of people who were there for varying and similar reasons. I went to their open mic nights and New Year’s Eve party and had seen a show put on by United Rocks Recovery at the One Church, which was so entertaining. It was full of all sorts of talent. I remember thinking wow this is amazing – and secretly (even a secret to myself) I wished I could be a part of that. A year and a bit later I had joined Cascades’ writing group, the choir and drama group. The people were all so welcoming and silently understood where I was coming from.

Today I am filled with excitement and inspiration about the days ahead, looking forward to the choir and drama. To be looking forward with a sense of belonging in the now and to the future is a massive change from where I was. Drinking and not drinking, I was in the depth of depression. I was lost, had lost myself, lost interest in things I enjoy. Each day when I woke I just wanted it to be over. I was not motivated and would put one foot in front of the other and get myself to a CBT workshop and/or a meeting. I filled my time, hours, days, weeks, months with these and Netflix, on my quest to giving up alcohol. Time was vast, too much of it. Now, there isn’t enough time in the day for all the things I want to do. After 2 detoxes and more relapses than I ever imagined, I have put together what I call my Recipe of Recovery. The added ingredient of CREATIVITY is totally crucial to my recipe.

First, I want to say how important it was and still is that these people I have joined are in recovery too. Its a given when you attend workshops and meetings. To be able to do something that is not just about working through addiction, but to join an activity where I feel comfortable and ‘’out’’ that I am a recovering addict is essential to me. We don’t always talk about it, it’s just a known amongst us. But always can talk about it, if want to. And the jokes that come out of our mouths are freeing. I really wanted to stress this point and was struggling how to until I was scrolling through Cascade Recovery Cafe Facebook page yesterday and came across this quote that hit this home.

‘’You can’t break the stigma of addiction, until you break the stigma of recovery. By Amy Dresner’’ Being creative is one thing and its brilliant but to be able to do it with others in recovery feels safe; I don’t have to hide this part of me; there is no shame.

And one more quote from that Cascade FB page is

’’ What a beautiful thing it is, to be able to stand tall and say ‘’I fell apart, and I survived’’. ‘’ I stand so tall after a rehearsal and/or a performance. I have gained such a lot of confidence and self-esteem.

My experience of joining the drama group is being encouraged to have ideas, playing with ideas and creating a drama piece out of them. I love the everyday epic theme. At present it is ‘’The Washing Up’’. In the group workshops I/we are acting out stories and emotions, but I/we are acting. The first time I had to act like I was in an argument I couldn’t do it. I was shaking after, as if I had had an actual argument. Drama helps me observe my feelings and work through them. It helps me process emotions that come from everyday life- interacting and working with others, listening, self-expression, mutual expression, conflicting expressions, being committed to something, feeling vulnerable, shy, mouthy, opinionated, self-conscience, letting go, playing, being in control, loosening control, feeling introverted/too invisible, extroverted/too visible. Different from mindfulness and meditation, which I use to calm my mind, the drama group has opened a channel for my imagination and often obsessive mind.

To do anything like writing or singing or drama before I was on my recovery journey, using this new recipe for my life, I would have had a drink before doing anything for Dutch courage to handle the nerves and loosen the inhibitions, a drink after to handle the come down off the adrenaline high of excitement and a drink in the middle to keep me going.

AA meetings and CBT workshops have given me so many tools and coping strategies for what reasons and triggers to drink are always. Celebrate, Commiserate, whatever… my problem was/is I can’t stop! I have found something in creative recovery that is not just about stopping. It’s about starting. Which is the very essence of Creation.

With all this in my life I basically don’t want to drink. Well that’s not true. I have wanted a drink while I’ve been writing this. Sad but true. To not want to, would require some sort of neurological or spiritual miracle. I can better describe it as; I do still have the urge to drink, just not as often. I don’t believe that voice any more, telling me its a good idea. I pull out every ingredient I have, to not act on it. Being a part of this creative recovery community brought me out of my isolation by giving me a safe space to be me, make connections with people and start living life again. I think of them when I get the urge to drink and think if they can do this, so can I. Being creative makes me feel alive, and helps me stay on this recovery path. I am so thankful that there are groups, projects, people, who give their time and belief towards making this available to me.

Big Thankx to Cascade Creative Recovery and those who fund it !!

The Art of Ambivalence #recovery #performance

I wrote something about The Art and Social Change European programme that I have been working on, about training health workers and Recoverists in creative picture

At the end of the three day training event with recovery workers in Brighton, I was surprised when we asked the participants to feedback on which moments of the training had had the most impact on them, that nearly all the group spoke about the very first exercise that we did together that seemed to have set the tone and indeed the values of the training. I say first, but I mean after we had had coffee, discussed how much snow might impact our time together, signed the European paper work, established where the toilets were and what time we were to have lunch.

So, what did we do?  I didn’t ask them to share their job role, their experience of recovery, their expertise in the arts. I asked them to accept that there is ambivalence in almost every situation and to answer the question

“what percentage of you wants to be here and what percentage of you doesn’t?”

What happened then is that people felt safe to share both their fears and their enthusiasm for the coming three days in a boundaried way. People reflected that it was useful to hear that they were not the only ones feeling anxious about the training and worried about falling behind with work tasks. It was also heartening to hear that despite the

issues facing people in their personal and professional lives, they were enthusiastic, happy to be in the room and ready to learn.

Asking people to introduce themselves with their job role and experience, a customary practice in training, immediately sets up a hierarchical atmosphere where we consciously and unconsciously compare ourselves to others. For me working through the arts is a way of groups coming together and connecting equally as human beings outside of the world of status, hierarchy and shame. This exercise creates feelings of safety and equality where everyone feels valued as they are, and we begin to create a space where we can see each other as allies and create together without fear of judgement.

Secondly it is helpful for “professionals” to reflect on their own experience of being in a new group situation and help build empathy for the people that they work with who will bring their own ambivalences to any situation. By reflecting on their own experience, they may gain a deeper understanding of the experience of those in addiction recovery.

Thirdly and most importantly, ambivalence is crucial to artistic expression and allows space for us to work with and acknowledge our ambivalent and sometimes contradictory impulses. For example, “I want to know other people and be known” and “I fear being judged by others”. If we work through theatre and improvisation we can create characters that can contain this contradiction. If I am playing a character, it is not me. The audience, fellow trainees, cannot know how much of myself is in this role, so I can explore feelings and relationships safely without revealing too much. This lessens my fear of judgement so that paradoxically I may feel safe to give more of myself to the group. This is of course, not limited to theatre, a photograph, a drawing, a dance or any other art form has this ability.

In our current society, I don’t see much ambivalence. I see polarised opinions and definite stances. Through using the arts in recovery contexts, I believe we can learn from and create through the ambivalence in all of us. I will leave you with F. Scott Fitzgerald:

“– the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted onto my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true. “


Kate McCoy – April 2018

A depressed teaspoon speaks….


Four spoons in a washing up bowl. They have been there for over four days. The ladle, the tablespoon and the dessert spoon remain hopeful. The teaspoon is depressed, feels ignored, unloved and unwashed at the bottom of the bowl. A photo from our work in progress sharing of The Washing Up.


Social Peda -WHAT??? -Seeing Social Pedagogy in The Washing Up – Guest Blog by Robyn Kemp

washing up for social pedagogy

The washing up is an everyday, mundane task that most of us share, but when we scratch the surface there is so much more to explore as this great project shows. Social pedagogy is also interested in, works with and explores meaning from the everyday stuff of life. Most European countries have an established tradition and professional discipline of social pedagogy (it’s rooted in society so differs from country to country depending on the culture and conditions of where it exists), but ours in the UK is relatively new and still quite unknown so I’m going to try to explain a bit about it through the lens of The Washing Up…

Social peda-whaaat?

Pedagogy is a word most of us aren’t familiar with but teachers will be as it describes ‘the way of education’ a teacher, school or college might take. Social Pedagogy is about ‘the way of connecting’ the individual and society, it’s concerned with care and education and with relationships. Social Pedagogues are specially trained to work in relationships, especially where those relationships might be difficult – it is ethical and deeply humane, seeking to create strong, genuine, authentic relationships that truly support people in the ways they want to be supported. It is not a sculpting way of connecting, where someone else’s idea of who and what a person should be is the basis for connections (and corrections), but a gardening way of connecting so that social pedagogues are keen to create and nurture the kind of physical, emotional and social environments where people can thrive and be seen as the whole people they are, as the experts in their own lives and as people with rich and extraordinary experience and potential. All too often people are reduced to one aspect of their lives – children in care, people in addiction recovery, people with disabilities are good examples – but we are all so much more than the labels given to us. Social Pedagogy aims to question and ‘disturb’ the status quo and assumptions made about people, speak truth to power, flatten hierarchies and co-create a society, communities and relationships where everyone is enabled to fully participate, learn, connect and thrive whatever their circumstances.


A group of rather brilliant people have been exploring the washing up through the creative medium of performance art, and have the most engaging, extraordinary takes on the most ordinary of subjects, as you will see on these pages and when you come to the performances. Through song, poetry, prose and theatre this group have found a way of engaging with each other as equals with rich and extraordinary lives and potential. In social pedagogy we might call this project a ‘Common Third’. The common third is a Danish social pedagogical concept that seeks to strengthen relationships through doing things together – the theory is that when people with different starting points and levels of power share a genuine interest in something that is new to them both and explore that interest together, the different starting points, backgrounds, life experiences and levels of power are eclipsed by exploring the shared interest, and all the while the relationship between them grows stronger. So the Washing Up is a common third for those involved in co-creating the project, and the interactive performances could be a kind of common third between the performers and the audience.


That  the majority of the  performers are in addiction recovery is both immaterial and significant. Immaterial because while previous addiction may have brought them together, it does not make the person or the group or indeed the project. Significant because while exploring and co-creating this project every person is also dealing with life difficulties to one degree or another, there are good days and bad days and the group is understanding and flexible to accommodate what comes up – I see individual responsibility for the group and group responsibility for the individual in this project. Significant too because the project provides an opportunity to explore mental health and addiction in a creative way, with metaphor, and in ways that we can all connect with – only this morning I noticed a depressed teaspoon in my washing up bowl and thought of how cold and lonely it must be. The Washing Up gives us a fun and thought provoking way of thinking and talking about mental health and addiction.


So many people in our society are excluded for arbitrary reasons of discrimination and this has become a growing concern over recent years where we have begun to notice how judgmental and uncompassionate some of our services and professionals have become. This is not to blame, the environment has been changed beneath the public radar, and landscape has changed so that the priorities of professional practice have been obscured.  In the UK our emerging social pedagogy is trying to redress this balance and change the landscape, and so too is The Washing Up.


If you’d like to find out more check this out

washing up for social pedagogy