Fringe Festival performer tackles mental illness with humour in Brain

Brendan McLeod’s monologue Brain will be performed at the Chan Centre on November 17 at 7:30 p.m. Addressing issues of mental illness, relationships, and McLeod’s experience of battling obsessive-compulsive disorder and psychosis, the one-man show was awarded Pick of the Fringe in the 2015 Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Part of the Chan Centre’s Beyond Words series this year, Brain will be amongst a group of performances that aim to initiate conversations about important topics through multidisciplinary works.

Discussing very personal issues of mental health in front of an audience was terrifying at first for McLeod, but he notes that the nature of performing itself tends to be cathartic.

“I wanted to do a really personal, nuanced exploration about mental health because just like any experience in life, it is in some parts the same for everyone, but it’s also incredibly different and there’s different manifestations for each person. It’s a very specific rendering of my experience,” said McLeod.

Finding that personal voice proved to be a challenge in itself during the year-long writing process. He began the monologue in the summer of 2014, and first performed it at the Fringe Festival in 2015. However, striking a balance between relatability and honesty was something that came with its own set of worries and doubts.

“You kind of tend to want to be general all the time because you want to keep it real for everybody — you want to speak to everyone’s experiences. I kind of kept lying or not telling the full truth, or I would try to talk about my experiences in a way that made it more generalized … It’s hard to be totally, totally honest and not filter it,” he said.

McLeod noted that it was once he focused on his own specific story that the piece really came together. Despite the specificity, there were people that approached him after his performances to tell him that his experiences had really resonated with them.

“You’re always worried about relatability when you’re trying to perform for other people,” he said.

McLeod himself is no stranger to storytelling in its many different forms. He has created spoken word poems, plays, monologues, novels and music throughout the course of his career. Additionally, he teaches at Langara College and works with various youth mentorship programs in order to help reduce stigmas around mental health.

In utilizing comedy to discuss the difficult issues of mental illness throughout Brain, McLeod aims to reduce stigmas and approach sensitive subjects from a different perspective.

“Humour is a way to get people to lower their defenses … You don’t want to just go up there and hit people with really dark stuff for 55 minutes. Part of life is finding something to laugh about in the tougher moments,” he said.