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  • Mind Games: Applying White’s principles of narrative therapy

    to the creation of a cabaret about depression and bipolar disorder.

    Jo Loth BA (UQ), Dip Ed (QUT), MA (QUT)

    Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements

    for Doctor of Philosophy

    Queensland University of Technology October 2011

  • Abstract This PhD represents my attempt to make sense of my personal experiences of

    depression through the form of cabaret. I first experienced depression in 2006.

    Previously, I had considered myself to be a happy and optimistic person. I found the

    experience of depression to be a shock: both in the experience itself, and also in the

    way it effected my own self image. These personal experiences, together with my

    professional history as a songwriter and cabaret performer, have been the

    motivating force behind the research project.

    This study has explored the question: What are the implications of applying

    principles of Michael White’s narrative therapy to the creation of a cabaret

    performance about depression and bipolar disorder? There is a 50 percent

    weighting on the creative work, the cabaret performance Mind Games, and a 50

    percent weighting on the written exegesis. This research has focussed on the

    illustration of therapeutic principles in order to play games of truth within a cabaret

    performance. The research project investigates ways of telling my own story in

    relation to others’ stories through three re-authoring principles articulated in Michael

    White’s narrative therapy: externalisation, an autonomous ethic of living and rich

    descriptions. The personal stories presented in the cabaret were drawn from my

    own experiences and from interviews with individuals with depression or bipolar

    disorder. The cabaret focussed on the illustration of therapeutic principles, and was

    not focussed on therapeutic ends for myself or the interviewees.

    The research question has been approached through a methodology combining

    autoethnographic, practice-led and action research. Auto ethnographic research is

    characterised by close investigation of assumptions, attitudes, and beliefs. The

    combination of autoethnographic, practice-led, action research has allowed me to

    bring together personal experiences of mental illness, research into therapeutic

    techniques, social attitudes and public discourses about mental illness and forms of

    contemporary cabaret to facilitate the creation of a one-woman cabaret

    performance.

    The exegesis begins with a discussion of games of truth as informed by Michel

    Foucault and Michael White and self-stigma as informed by Michael White and

    Erving Goffman. These concepts form the basis for a discussion of my own personal

    experiences. White’s narrative therapy is focused on individuals re-authoring their

    [ii] 

  • stories, or telling their stories in different ways. White’s principles are influenced by

    Foucault’s notions of truth and power. Foucault’s term games of truth has been used

    to describe the effect of a ‘truth in flux’ that occurs through White’s re-authoring

    process. This study argues that cabaret is an appropriate form to represent this

    therapeutic process because it favours heightened performativity over realism, and

    showcases its ‘constructedness’ and artificiality. Thus cabaret is well suited to

    playing games of truth. A contextual review compares two major cabaret trends,

    personal cabaret and provocative cabaret, in reference to the performer’s

    relationship with the audience in terms of distance and intimacy. The study draws a

    parallel between principles of distance and intimacy in Michael White’s narrative

    therapy and relates these to performative terms of distance and intimacy. The

    creative component of this study, the cabaret Mind Games, used principles of

    narrative therapy to present the character ‘Jo’ playing games of truth through:

    externalising an aspect of her personality (externalisation); exploring different life

    values (an autonomous ethic of living); and enacting multiple versions of her identity

    (rich descriptions). This constant shifting between distance and intimacy within the

    cabaret created the effect of a truth in ‘constant flux’, to use one of White’s terms.

    There are three inter-related findings in the study. The first finding is that the

    application of principles of White’s narrative therapy was able to successfully

    combine provocative and empathetic elements within the cabaret. The second

    finding is that the personal agenda of addressing my own self-stigma within the

    project limited the effective portrayal of a ‘truth in flux’ within the cabaret. The third

    finding presents the view that the cabaret expressed ‘Jo’ playing games of truth in

    order to journey towards her own “preferred identity claim” (White 2004b) through

    an act of “self care” (Foucault 2005).

    The contribution to knowledge of this research project is the application of

    therapeutic principles to the creation of a cabaret performance. This process has

    focussed on creating a self-revelatory cabaret that questions notions of a ‘fixed truth’

    through combining elements of existing cabaret forms in new ways. Two major

    forms in contemporary cabaret, the personal cabaret and the provocative cabaret

    use the performer-audience relationship in distinctive ways. Through combining

    elements of these two cabaret forms, I have explored ways to create a provocative

    cabaret focussed on the act of self-revelation.

    [iii] 

  •  

    Keywords

    Cabaret, depression, bipolar disorder, narrative therapy, persona, parody, provocateur, vamp.

    [iv] 

  • List of Figures

    Figure 1: ‘The flying girl’  2009 ............................................................................................. 124  Figure 2: ‘The flying girl’  2010 ............................................................................................. 132  Figure 3: ‘The country and western singer’ 2010 ................................................................ 133  Figure 4: ‘Dame Hurry‐to‐Therapy’ 2010 ............................................................................. 134  Figure 5: ‘Jolene in 2010 ...................................................................................................... 140  Figure 6: ‘Jolene’ falling apart, 2010 .................................................................................... 141  Figure 7: ‘Jolene's’  disintegration continues, 2010 ............................................................. 142  Figure 8: 'Ms Rapid Cycling', 2010 ....................................................................................... 146  Figure 9 : You put my brain back the wrong way, 2010 ...................................................... 147  Figure 10:  ‘Jolene’, 2010 ..................................................................................................... 151  Figure 11 : 'Jo', 2010 ............................................................................................................ 153 

    Photography credits: All photos by Jacinta King except for Figure 1(by Ben Knapton).

    [v] 

  • List of Appendices   Appendix One 1.1 Personal Journals (2008, 2009 and 2010) 1.2 Ethical Clearance Information 1.3 Personal Interviews 1.4 Audience Feedback 1.5 Program Notes (2008, 2009 and 2010) 1.6 Mind Games script May 2010 1.7 Personal thank-you letter 1.8 Analysis of audience feedback 1.9 Collaborators and the research cycles 1.10 Confirmation Document (2009) 1.11 Framing Document (2010) Appendix Two 2.1 Work-in-progress showing 2008 on DVD 2.2 Audience Feedback 2008 on DVD Appendix Three 3.1 Work-in-progress showing 2009 on DVD Appendix Four 4.1 Performance of the Mind Games cabaret, May 2010 on DVD

    [vi] 

  • Statement of Originality

    The work contained in this thesis has not been previously submitted to meet requirements for an award at this or any other higher education institution. To the best of my knowledge and belief, the thesis contains no material previously published or written by another person except where due reference is made.

    [vii] 

  • Acknowledgements

    I would like to express my gratitude to the interviewees whose stories informed this research project and to acknowledge their generosity in sharing their stories.

    I would also like to thank my supervising team: Dr Bree Hadley, Dr Christine Comans and Professor David Kavanagh. Thanks also goes to Dr David Fenton who was my supervisor for the first year of this project.

    Development of this research project has been enhanced by my attendance at the following conferences. I thank all of the conference delegates who have participated in the development of this work:

    • PSI Conference “Performing Publics”, Toronto, June 2010

    Paper: Tension as inspiration: Performing depression and bi-polar disorder for a cabaret audience  

    • ADSA C

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