Bristol and Me: Steve Hennessy

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This week we speak to Steve Hennessy, CEO of Stepping Out Theatre

Stepping Out works with mental health service users and theatre professionals to produce live theatre, from big community productions to small-scale touring shows. It’s about giving service users the broadest possible experience – performing, writing, directing – in a professional theatre environment. Theatre is a wonderful tool for helping people after episodes of poor mental health, for keeping them well, giving a sense of achievement, self-worth, and a real sense of belonging.

Twenty years ago I was working in a psychiatric hospital. We set up various creative groups and put on a show for World Mental Health Day. That was successful, won a little award, so we carried on; Stepping Out has been my full-time job for nearly 10 years. Working with people over a long period means we forge strong relationships, get involved in aspects of lives that might normally be the province of social workers or community psychiatric nurses. Producing theatre together is the focus, but it’s more than that, there’s a sense of family and tribe.

We’ve run lots of different workshops – straight drama therapy, improvisation, clowning, etc. At the moment they’re geared towards creating our new show, Present, looking at Christmas in the context of people’s wider lives. We offer mentoring from people who really know the business and we also guide people into education or work. We’re about to publish six poetry anthologies – there’s not a lot we won’t get involved in.

Mark Rylance is our patron. We’re very proud, he’s a great spokesperson. We did a big project on Broadmoor patients, noticed a plaque to him in their theatre and thought ‘He’s obviously interested in working in these environments’. If people are interested in becoming involved, we’d encourage them to come see the shows. There are drama workshops until the end of January, then in February we’ll start our next big community production with parts for absolutely anyone who wants one.

Present runs at Hamilton House from Dec 18–19. Ffi: www.steppingouttheatre.co.uk

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