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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Towards a politicized, feminist exploration of depression


Grinnell currently provides inadequate mental health services on campus. Students who speak out against gender-based violence are frequently stigmatized, harassed and silenced. There is an ongoing police state in Ferguson, as protestors seek justice for Michael Brown. It is more common to do jail time for smoking marijuana than for committing a rape. Trans-men and trans-women are often brutalized on the street. What do all these problems have in common? Well, for one thing, they all shape and reflect the social order we live in. These issues also have psychic—and often embodied—consequences. One of these psychic consequences is an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, immobility and despair—or what many people refer to as depression.

As student groups such as Active Minds have articulated, depression affects many members of our campus community. I have become increasingly interested in understanding and exploring representations of depression, for personal and political reasons. My most recent aesthetic project is “4.48 Psychosis,” an experimental play that has been described as “a lacerating and lyrical depiction of a woman’s mind on the edge. British playwright Sarah Kane’s extraordinary final work swings from elation to despair as it chronicles a convincing, lucid argument of isolation vs. nonexistence.” While critics have sometimes interpreted the show as an extended suicide note, I have tried to investigate and highlight its political implications. Rather than presenting the show as the journey of one clinically depressed, “sick” woman, I want to think about how depression—particularly for women—can be understood as a psychic consequence of the current social order. In this context, the show takes on specifically gendered and racialized dimensions.

I have worked in close collaboration with five powerful women performers—Emma Sinai-Yunker [’15], Quinnita Bellows [’15], Ebony Chuukwu [’16], Cristal Coleman [’15] and Sophiyaa Nayar [’17]—to develop a deconstructive, explicitly feminist rendition of “4.48 Psychosis.” The show incorporates a range of expressive tools, such as movement, song and various theatrical techniques to deliver its message(s). The play has no characters or fixed plot; in fact, it refuses a coherent or linear narrative. It weds form and content, evoking a series of fragmented images, stories and voices. This constant sense of fragmentation, in both form and content, communicates Kane’s experience of depression. Yet it also offers a compelling visualization of the degenerative effects social and political violences can have on the mind.

In keeping with our feminist and politicized vision of “4.48 Psychosis,” we will be holding several post-performance discussions. So we invite you to watch the performance (it’s only about 45 minutes), and then engage with us about your experience and responses. What images did it evoke? Why did we make the decisions we made? How does the show relate to our social world? How can we use the show as a mobilizing, politicizing tool? In what ways can it be used as a form of communal healing, or civic reflection? I hope that we can use the rich, loaded—and deeply political—imagery presented in “4.48 Psychosis” to explore the dynamic connections between theatre, feminism, politics and community building.

Please join us at one of the performances this weekend in Bucksbaum’s Wall Theatre (BCA 154): Friday, Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday Nov. 8 at 3:30 p.m. and Sunday Nov. 9 at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. No tickets are needed, but please come early so we can start on time. We will be closing the doors once the performance starts.

Ed. note: Emma Sinai-Yunker is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of The S&B.

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