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Mental health takes centre stage in Delhi improv show

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Last weekend, Unravel, an interactive show focusing on mental health was staged by Kaivalya Plays at Oddbird Theatre in Delhi, India.

The show attempts to get a better understanding of mental health and ways of coping with it. The cast uses improv, theatre exercises and audience suggestions to create a final performance piece.

“Unravel came about after years of practice and teaching improv. I could tell that many students who gravitated towards improv were not performers. The ones who stayed were always dealing with an issue in their lives and improv is where they found acceptance and relief.”  says director of Unravel, Varoon P Anand.

The show combines the interactive aspect of improv while also applying a show within a show format that depicts the germination of the idea of the show itself. Although the show has been staged before, this was the first time it had been done in combination with an Improvisation for Mental Health workshop in the morning. About 20 participants across 3 days attended the workshop.

Varoon admits that even though depression is considered a less taboo topic in India now that movie stars have talked about their experiences “People would still react very negatively if a family member were to suggest that they wanted to go for therapy. Removing the stigma that a mental health illness or condition means that the individual is somehow damaged and shouldn’t talk about it is our hope. That people can sit across from each other and empathise and listen.”

Staging the show hasn’t been easy. Delhi theatre groups deal with immense bureaucracy, a lack of funding, no dedicated rehearsal spaces. There is limited (if any) budget to stage shows which makes it a real challenge to get a show like Unravel up and running. However, Varoon has succeeded where many others don’t. 

Last weekend’s run was the show’s fourth time on stage and the reviews have been positive. Delhi Theatre Guide said “Its high time to eradicate the myths, shame and stigma attached to mental illness. Unravel is an important step in this direction” and The Wire was similarly full of praise “We cannot ignore the urgency of addressing mental health issues today, and I believe Unravel is an honest, experimental start.”

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