Maladjusted: Using Theatre to Create Mental Health Policy

“Very few individuals or families are not touched by at least some aspects of mental dysfunction, some moments of the discouragement, disconnect or anxiety that, on a deeper level, characterizes the mind state of the mentally ill. Maladjusted, to be created with the participation of people challenged by mental illness, will serve us all by bringing their experience and insights to public awareness, giving us opportunity to examine our own attitudes towards mental health in others and in ourselves.”
 (Quote from Theatre for Living’s website)
Gabor Maté M.D. Author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction



maladjusted, a play by Theatre for Living, Vancouver, BC

Unfortunately, I heard about maladjusted a day too late, and didn’t get to attend the play or listen to the online Webcast. I still think it is an important idea to bring to our health communication and advocacy class, however, as it is an innovative way of initiating change in mental health policy and involving multiple players in the process.

Maladjusted was produced by Theatre for Living (formerly Headlines Theatre) in Vancouver, and ran from March 8th-24th at the Firehall Arts Centre. The theatre style used was “forum” based theatre, based on the work of the late Augusto Boal (“Theatre of the Oppressed”).

As the creators explain on the Theatre for Living website, maladjusted was released at an important time in Canada, as mental health issues are beginning to gain more discussion and consideration in policy. The Mental Health Commission of Canada recently released its national strategy “Changing Directions, Changing Lives,” which encourages multiple levels of society to work together to ensure its successful implementation.

Theatre for Living believes that forum theatre is an opportunity for creative, community-based discussions on mental health issues in Canada, particularly regarding stigmatization.

On their website, Theatre for Living explains: “If we agree that there are populations of clients (mental health) and health care providers who have poor interaction patterns due to stigmatization, and that these clients and providers are finding difficulty interacting in a healthy and productive manner, then we have the opportunity to experiment with new ways for these marginalized clients to access care and for the providers who work with these populations to be supported in both the health system and the larger mainstream culture.” [History of the Project, What Can Theatre Do?]

The production was in the style of a workshop over the course of 6 days, involving some play and some public dialogue. The participants were a mix of individuals suffering from mental health conditions and health care providers, thus the patients and the providers. Each day, participants engaged in games and exercises that helped them shed light on issues such as mental health stigma, diagnosis, treatment, among many others.

How does it work?

The scripted play is performed once, without interruptions. There is a crisis at the end, and no solutions are offered. Then, the actors run through the play again, and audience members are allowed to stop the play and offer ideas for interventions (see “What is Forum Theatre? And the Evolution of Theatre for Living” section of the Theatre for Living website). Due to equity rules, there is no recorded playback of this event.

This is a very interesting example of Entertainment Education, which we will be discussing in class next week.

A few questions to ponder: How can we use this example of Entertainment Education to target other public health issues?  Why does it work so well as a method for addressing contentious issues? How does this form of advocacy have the power to create a large “buzz” in the media?

For an example of “media buzz,” read a review of maladjusted on at the following link:




Theatre for Living Overview of maladjusted: “The Mental Health System. The People. The Play:”

Theatre for Living Blog: review of maladjusted:

Augusto Boal Wikipedia (“Theatre of the Oppressed”):

The Mental Health Commission of Canada “Changing Directions, Changing Lives” national mental health strategy:

Firehall Arts Centre Vancouver website:


One response to “Maladjusted: Using Theatre to Create Mental Health Policy”

  1. Liza Lindgren, returning Outreach Coordinator, Theatre for Living (Headlines) says :

    Hi! I just saw your blog and thought I’d let you know that there will actually be a DVD available (closing night performance of “maladjusted” was also a live webcast, and was also made into a DVD) that you could get a hold of if you are interested in still seeing the production 🙂

    As you may know, a webcast is a live broadcast online. Theatre for Living (Headlines) is a pioneer in webcasting interactive plays, with a twelve-year history of hosting live, interactive webcasts of our theatre productions.

    The maladjusted webcast included a chat space so viewers around the world could talk with “webactors” (actors who were on computers backstage) who made interventions on stage on the viewers’ behalf.

    The DVD of the webcast will be available in April/May, 2013. For information please contact us at:

    All the best,
    Liza (Returning Outreach Coordinator, Theatre for Living)
    Email: tour (at)
    Phone: 604-871-0508

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