Taking a bite out of stigma and the “Big Apple”

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It was the summer of 1978, disco was climbing the charts, the first “test tube” baby was born, and the framework for the Camp David Accords were being developed – it was a time of great change and challenge. It was also during this time John Boc was struggling with bipolar disorder and wrote a play called How the Circus Vanished – a play he thought he destroyed in 1996.John was going through a manic phase of his mental illness when he wrote The Circus and 18 years later – halfway between depression and mania he threw this play and seven others into a fire – or so he thought. At the age of 12, John’s daughter Morgan was able to save three of the plays, and in 2003 How the Circus Vanished (The Circus), surfaced for the first time since John wrote it. “I was in shock,” says John. “When I found them in a box, I was so happy.”John is a father, playwright and an outpatient at St. Joseph’s Regional Mental Health Care London (RMHCL). John was an inpatient as well at RMHCL for a few short stays but has not been in hospital for over seven years. “I have been stable since 2002 and am managing well, I currently see a doctor once every three months.”In 2003, John submitted The Circus, to the London One Act Festival; it won three Awards including Best Original Script. In 2009 it received the Bravest Production Award at the Brickenden Awards in London, Ontario. The Circus delves into the lives of two psychiatric patients and how they are perceived by care workers, family and society. The play helps the audience understand the confusion and frustration that can be overwhelming for someone with a mental illness. And to help shed more light, after the play, John, the actors and a psychiatrist or physician answer questions about the play and mental health in general.Dr. Tom Janzen, family physician specializing in mental health at RMHCL who participates in answering questions after the show feels The Circus goes a long way in creating mental health awareness. “The stigma of mental illness can impede patients not only from receiving treatment but also continuing it. Plays like The Circus serve to increase awareness of mental illness and enable the public to personally see how well patients can become with treatment and support.” “John is proof of the positive change that can happen to someone with a mental illness,” says Bill Hill, social worker and RPN at RMHCL and lead performer in the play. “He had a very rough experience with his mental health but he got it under control, is coping perfectly well and is successful at so many endeavors. When he gets up on stage and answers questions openly – it’s incredible. I am honoured to participate in such an eye-opening experience.”Bill was the one who filled out the application to have John’s play go to New York City – to be on stage at an international mental health conference called Performing he World 2010 this fall. “I called John up and said, buddy, you’re going to New York your play was accepted. He was stone silent; I think he was in disbelief.”“I was shocked,” said John. The success of The Circus has validated John’s writing and given him confidence and purpose. “Sometimes the hardest thing when you have a mental illness is to have purpose in life. It is like my life is coming back to me now.”Bill also feels validated by the success of the play as he directs and produces the play. He also took home a London One Act Festival award for best actor. “This play continues to give me insight. I remember reading the script and being astonished at how articulate the playwright was. After meeting John seven years ago and learning from him about mental health and life in general – those have been some of my most rewarding experiences, both personally and professionally.” This year, The Circus will be playing once again for the London community and then – on to New York. And thanks to a smart young girl, a determined father and playwright as well as the play’s actors and helpful psychiatrists, this play continues to engage and educate audiences. Thankfully for all – this play didn’t “vanish” forever.