Aside from being co-created by people with lived experience, maladjusted is interesting because it is a Legislative Theatre production. An evening at the performance involves audience members, referred to as “spectactors,” watching the play for about 30 minutes. The play interweaves a number of different stories, illuminating different aspects of the dysfunctions within the mental health system, builds into a crisis, and stops, offering no solutions. Next, audience members are shown several scenes again and invited to stop the action at any point that they see an opportunity to intervene in the action and create safety for the characters. Once an audience member yells “Stop!” they take the place of whichever character they choose and then play the scene again, incorporating their idea. The rest of the cast responds to the intervention as their characters in that moment. Some of the interventions result in significant changes for the better for the characters, others don’t, and occasionally, interventions even lead to worse results. But having some idea of what has worked or not worked in the theatre gives us an idea of what might work or not work in “real life.” Thus, the theatre is “a rehearsal for reality.”
Legislative Theatre means that the play goes one step beyond interventions made by members of the audience, periodically asking the audience for policy ideas based on what they’re seeing on stage. These policy ideas are recorded and compiled into a final report by a Community Scribe. This Community Action Report thus transforms a sometimes-raucous grassroots theatre production into a report with clear policy recommendations for human-centred mental health care. The 2013 maladjusted report identified three key themes in the play and the interventions, themes that speak to the failure of community mental health to deliver on the promise of the deinstitutionalization era:
- the misdiagnosis of people – in this case young people – and the debilitating effects of heavy yet unnecessary prescriptions;
- the concurrence of homelessness and mental illness, where lack of appropriate treatment leads to further trauma;
- the breakdown of a mental health system that struggles to keep the mechanics of the system working while losing sight of human connection.
Watch a video of the maladjusted production, filmed on closing night, when the play was also web-cast, and interventions were accepted from around the world via actors, not just from people in the theatre.