Celebrate Mad Pride 2011

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Tuesday July 19, 2011

Patrick Connors – Toronto:  Mad Pride events are going on this week, centred around the College Street United Church, as well as on the grounds of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

The Walls Are Alive With The Sounds of Mad People, by Friendly Spike Theatre, is a theatrical tour of the historic patient built wall at Queen and Shaw (CAMH) at 6PM on Thursday July 14th.

During the 19th century walls were built and rebuilt around the grounds of the asylum by unpaid patient labourers. In 2010, memorial plaques dedicated to psychiatric patients history were unveiled around this site. By including a lively dimension in the telling of this story, the  past is embodied in a way that empowers the present.

“We are a community theatre that works with psychiatric survivors, disabled people and others to bring a disability culture forward,” said Friendly Spike Director Ruth Ruth.  “We are a registered charity and have been operating for over 20 years, however our only source of consistent funding is our private patrons, called theatre angels, and the Toronto Arts Council.  We don’t have employees and just a small board.  I do all the admin and a good deal of the artistic direction – Honey Novick and Heinz Klein help out in that way – and my board partners are Ken Innes and Marlene Charney.   Basically we are volunteer driven.  We have a following that has many people from psych survivor consumer community but also from academia.”

“I am their music consultant, helper, participant, friend, winner of the 2010 Bobbi Nahwegahbow Memorial Award for working with them and currently composer of one of the songs for this performance,” Novick said.  “I have been involved Friendly Spike for about 7 years.  I came aboard when Ruth recommended Mad Pride at City Hall.

“I have had a relationship with CAMH since as a girl delivering papers to people there.  I consider it to be a true “secret garden”, and loved the grounds.

“I just feel the work Ruth does is immeasurable.  Working with a true visionary.  Everybody is welcome, accepted, and has value.

“Last year I had a role in “Dega and Delbasid”.  This year I am there as a troubadour.  I wrote the music for one of the pieces.  Not acting, but active.

“As an interactive play with an important historical and humanistic context, if you enjoy history, citizenry, theatrical vision expanded, encompassing.”

“Ruth Ruth and the Friendly Spike Theatre led a Jane’s Walk as part of the 2011 Jane’s Walk”, said Emmy Pantin, Operations Director, Jane’s Walk.  “A tour of the wall at CAMH has been led for the last couple of years by Geoffrey Reaume, but this year Geoffrey was unavailable, and asked Ruth Ruth to step in and lead the walk. She did a great job – the feedback we’ve heard has been great.”

The following five paragraphs, in reference to the tour and one of the plaques seen, are reprinted with the permission of the Psychiatric Survivor Archives, Toronto.  It is representative of what appears on the pictured plaque though the wording is somewhat different.

Plaque 1) Memorial Wall Dedicated to Patient Labourers.

These patient-built walls are a testament to the abilities of the people whose unpaid labour was central to the operation of asylums in the province of Ontario during the 19th and 20th centuries. The surviving walls were designated as historic structures worthy of preservation by the City of Toronto in 1997 under authority of the Ontario Heritage Act.

Men and women patients did immense amounts of work on this site after the asylum first opened in 1850. Men worked outdoors on construction, maintenance and farm work, including building and repairing many of the structures in which they were confined, and tending to the grounds. Women worked primarily inside, doing the sewing, knitting and laundry for the asylum, while also working as domestic servants in both the nurses’ and doctors’ residences not far from this spot. Both men and women also worked in their own sex-segregated wards doing domestic chores such as cleaning, washing and scrubbing floors. Both sexes worked in the male (west side) and female (east side) infirmaries, where they helped to care for their fellow patients who were sick and dying.

All of these types of patients’ labour were known as “work therapy” or “moral therapy,” originally promoted by asylum authorities as a humane way of getting patients engaged in light leisure and labour activities alongside staff. The intent was to provide patients with meaningful activity during their stay and, in some cases, to provide them with work skills to help find employment upon discharge. However, many patients already had such skills prior to entering the asylum, and in fact these skills were used during their stay to maintain the internal operation of the facility. Moreover, their work here very often was not “light” at all, and the patients were never paid for it prior to the 1960s.

As the asylum was overcrowded within a few years of opening, work as therapy gave way to work intended to save the provincial government money through unpaid patient labour. The walls which still stand today are historical monuments to the exploited labour of all psychiatric patients who lived, worked and died on these grounds since 1850.

To become further educated on these points and many others, please check the following links:



On Wednesday afternoon at College Street United Church, the Laughing Like Crazy Program of the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario gave a performance, led by Associate Director Emma Ardal.

“We use stand up to tell part of our story as survivors,” Ardal said.  “It is a four-month long program, and is peer supportive.  The reason it is four months in duration is to give those in the program the guidance to learn to write and perform comedy material.

“It’s a vehicle for looking at mental health issues and breaking down the stigma attached to them.  It enables to break down isolation, build up community, and just have a lot of fun!  The show is the opportunity for others to see the results of it.

“We function as a sort of support group.  We talk about what’s going on in our daily lives, what’s coming up.  A graduate group meets once a month to work on new material and catch up.

“I feel so lucky to have met all of these people.  It is inspirational to see the transformation from the initial shyness and social anxiety to the smile after performing the first show, the feeling of accomplishment.  I can see what a difference it makes for members to talk about what is happening to themselves personally.

“This has been going on for five years.  Michael Cole has been the director since the beginning.  After the next class, which is not booked yet, there will have been over 100 graduates.”

For information on their event August 4th, please check:  http://s.mooddisorders.ca/files/factsheets/laughing_like_crazy_show_flyer_-_aug411_0.pdf

“This year is shaping up as much bigger than the past Mad Prides,” said Maureen O’Donnell, incoming Chair.  “Today’s attendance at College Street United Church was encouraging in a big way.  Also, because we operated with more of a committee structure behind it, we had people to parcel out tasks to.

“This afternoon, after a great set from Laughing Like Crazy, we heard from Dr. Bonnie Burstow, who is a professor at the University of Toronto, and her involvement with the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault and their anti-psychiatry measures.  She told the audience that a lot of what goes into psychiatric practice is not scientifically based, for instance the medicalization of day-to-day problems.  Then she talked about how the use of electroshock as a “therapeutic” device is on the rise, especially against older women.

“After this, mental health survivor Mel Starkman told us about the effect electroshock has had on his life, and how no one is able to get accurate details from hospitals on how many treatments are given to individual patients.

“The College Street United Church has been exceptional, even giving us a discount.  They have been co-operative, generous, and easy to work with.  The space we have been meeting in is beautiful.”

Events continue through the 16th.  Please check this link for listings:  http://madpridenetwork.com/?page_id=77