New way to ‘view’ mental illness

2017-02-01 16:15
Dr Sean Baumann

Dr Sean Baumann

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A doctor’s dedication to creating a positive attitude to mental illness has grown into a musical production that gives new insight on public perceptions of mental patients.

Following its acclaimed success at the World Psychiatry International Congress and its once-off staging in December last year, respected psychiatrist Dr Sean Baumann’s cantata Madness: Songs of Hope and Despair returns to the Baxter Theatre for a limited season in February.

Baumann, from Higgovale, explains that the production is an attempt to portray mental illness in an authentic and respectful way.

“The stories told and the events described arise directly from my clinical experiences at Valkenberg Hospital,” he says. “I have been working in the domain of serious mental illness, or psychoses, or more specifically, schizophrenia, for 25 years.

“This has been in the capacity as a specialist consultant psychiatrist in acute male services at Valkenberg and as a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health in the health sciences faculty at UCT.”

He explains that while this is his first theatrical production the idea developed about five years ago and arose from the frustration that mental illness in the arts world is too often depicted in a false, often sensationalist way.

“This contributes significantly to the burden of suffering and exclusion,” he says.

“I’ve always had an interest in the theatre and music and it seems to me that the form of an opera or cantata might usefully and dramatically convey these strange, at times, unfathomable states of mind.

“The reception at the World Congress of Psychiatry and the single performance at the Baxter Theatre in December was gratifyingly positive.

“The intention has always been to raise awareness and hopefully, therefore, a better understanding and support for the plight of the mentally ill and their families.”
Baumann’s libretto is brought to life through music composed by Galina Juritz with Dizu Plaatjies, conducted by Chad Hendricks and directed by Lara Foot. Fiona Moodie integrates her own artworks with that of work by patients of Valkenberg Hospital, with video design by Koeka Stander and lighting design by Patrick Curtis.

The production is staged at the Baxter Theatre from Thursday 9 to Sunday 19 February, with performances at 20:00 and Sunday performances at 18:00. There is an age restriction of 14 years. Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Cape Mental Health and the Friends of Valkenberg. Book at Computicket.

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