Interview: Aine O’Hara chats about her new show The Birthday Party
The show aims to break down stigma around mental health
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The Birthday Party, written and performed by Áine O’Hara, will be played at the Smock Alley Boys School Thursday and Friday at 6:15pm. Tickets are €12 and €10 at the concession. You can buy them over here.
“The Birthday Party is a deeply personal story we can all relate to: it’s about how the place you’re from shapes who you are, whether you like it or not. It’s about home, and family, and why the inside of your head can be the most unwelcoming place of all.”
SpunOut’s Emily caught up with Aine to chat about the show.
What message do you hope that young viewers and their parents and family members take away from this play? What do you want them to learn about mental illness?
In terms of people who are experiencing mental illness, I want them to know that other people are experiencing it too. Within the play I talk about how attitudes have changed, at least a little bit, and that the negative stigma has gotten better. For parents, there’s a section in the play where I describe what having a panic attack is like, and I think that’s something very difficult to tell a parent. So I’m just trying to give them an example - describe exactly how terrifying it is. Because without experiencing it you don’t really know how to relate to it. So I’m just literally telling people what happens.
In the description it says, “The inside of your head can be the most unwelcoming place of all." How therapeutic was writing this for yourself, and really pushing the boundaries of the voice inside your head, and giving it a voice that others can hear?
It was not therapeutic. It was really difficult. I had to be really aware of taking breaks of writing it and to discuss it with friends because of my own mental health. Especially since there's just one person in the show I spent a lot of time by myself working on it. I had to be really aware not to push myself too far. It was just really tough.
Mental health is a very prominent stigma not just in Ireland, but also in many countries around the world. How do you think young people should safely address their mental health?
You have to be aware of who you're talking to, but there are loads of safe spaces. I think that it's really important to be honest. There's still a lot of stigma but I think that the only way to get through it is to talk about it.
Another description says, "No one ever chooses to be ashamed" Do you think people who suffer from a mental health should be okay with being ashamed? Or should they feel comfortable confronting and combating their mental illness?
I don't think that they should be ashamed. Especially in Ireland there is a huge amount of shame around it and you feel like you should hide it. I had my first panic attack when I was eight or nine and I didn't tell anyone that I had them until I was 15. The reason that I didn’t tell anyone was because I thought I was crazy. How did I have that in my head so young? Where did that idea come from? And I think that that attitude is still out there. I'm trying to make some references for young people in the play and give them examples that it's not hopeless. There's still a negative connotation and attitude surrounding mental illness, like if you confide in someone at work or at school you get weird reactions. You get some friends who don't want to be your friends anymore. I'm just trying to make people aware that it's so shameful to feel like you're expected to hide your mental illness.