Play shows mental illness as more than just a hashtag

University of Victoria grad Brendan McLeod brings his new show Brain to the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival

University of Victoria grad Brendan McLeod brings his new show Brain to the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival.

Brendan McLeod lives inside his head, and it isn’t always a pretty place.

The University of Victoria grad, who now lives in Toronto, first began to realize the thoughts he was having  went far beyond the norm at age 12.

“Pure O, they call it, is just all thought. That’s part of why it’s weird to live with it. No one else can tell what’s going on –  it’s all internal,” he said.

Pure O is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a mental disorder where people feel the need to check things repeatedly, have certain thoughts repeatedly, or feel they need to perform certain routines repeatedly.

Pure O lacks the physical characteristics of typical OCD, so McLeod has none of the repetitive behaviours that go along with the mental illness.

“(Mental illness) is not a hashtag. As a storyteller I look for gaps in the communal dialogue. I’ve been heartened by the approach people are taking to destigmatize mental illness, what the corporations are doing with their Twitter campaigns, but sometimes they lose the specifics.”

With Brain, a new monologue McLeod is bringing to this year’s Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, Aug. 27 to Sept. 6, the former Canadian Slam champion hopes to engage and enlighten audiences.

“It’s my mental illness procedural,” he said.

“It’s sort of a fun exploration of the nature of consciousness and thought. It’s the biggest mystery, the conscience. Why it does what it does, how does it work? It’s the biggest mystery inside your own head.”

A heartbreaking and hilarious take on coming of age, mental illness and consciousness, Brain maps McLeod’s experiences with obsessive compulsive disorder – from a teenager struggling to understand his obsessions to an adult battling psychosis.

“When you make yourself recite the Lord’s Prayer 300 times a day when you’re 13, you’re going to find yourself in wacky situations. Let’s talk about some of the weird situations OCD leads to, and how laughter lessens the stigma of mental illness and makes for a deeper, more empathetic understanding of it,” he said.

“It gets into the specifics in a way that explains it with lightness and humour – it’s definitely dark in some parts – I do allow for a deeper exploration of that.”

To McLeod, doing the show is cathartic, however, the Victoria Fringe will be the debut for the full-length performance.

“I’ve done a 20-minute version as spoken word. It received good, positive feedback. You do worry going on stage that everyone’s going to hate you. I’m really interested to see how a general audience reacts and how the work translates.”

McLeod said he’s fortunate to be able to perform and live a productive life.

“I try hard not to frame it as super positive. I don’t like this disorder. I think it’s made me more honest … forced me to be more open as a human being,” he says.

“When things go wrong you have to be open. Friends help out when you lose your inner compass, they keep you company, they show you the world as it is and keep you on track. I definitely have a new appreciation for that.”

Brain is on at the Wood Hall at the Victoria Conservatory of Music beginning Thursday, Aug. 27.

Tickets are available at victoriafringe.com.

 

llavin@vicnews.com