Added: Friday 15th September, 2017
Cecilia Knapp talks about her play Finding Home and how art can help when dealing with loss and grief.
The last two days have been a blessing. I got to do my favourite things to do, meeting people, writing with them and sharing stories.
Two years ago, I began writing my first piece for theatre, Finding Home. What started as a stream of consciousness free write on my mates sofa in Walthamstow, turned out to become the piece of work I am most proud of.
I'd been writing poetry for a few years, having been captivated by the truth, accessibility and rawness of spoken word on YouTube one day. This type of poetry spoke to me, it was storytelling in a pure form and I fell in love with it.
Because for me, stories are the greatest breeder of empathy. They help us understand the world around us, other people's lives and by default, ourselves.
Writing about my experiences had always helped me in my life and this was a space where this writing could be shared and celebrated and appreciated.
I started writing a poem one day, after inheriting my mum's old bike. I thought there was a poem somewhere in the experience of cycling through London, down the canals, on the bike my mum used to ride 30 years ago.
When I started, I couldn't stop. I ended up writing about my life via a series of flashbacks experienced on a bike ride down the canal to the crappy job in an East End pub I had whilst at university.
I wrote about growing up in Brighton with my musician father, about losing my mother, about my friends, my experiences as a young female, and ultimately about the loss of my brother Leo to suicide, the years before and after he took his life.
I wrote it because it helped me to confront what had happened. But more than that, I wrote it because I wanted to speak to other people that had experienced something similar. Growing up, I always felt like I couldn't talk about bereavement or the mental health issues in my family. Every time I heard a poem that explored these themes and spoke candidly about them, I felt less alone. I wanted to do the same, to prove it's ok to shine a light on what we often ignore. To start a conversation.
The main message of the show is that it's ok to talk about how you're feeling, and even better to express it through writing. That's what helped me through. I also talk about the messy, complicated things to do with grief, the conflicting feelings, the process. I discuss the mental health crisis in the U.K. and the fact that 12 young men a day are taking their own lives in this country.
Once I had the words, I took them to a director, the wonderful Stef O'Driscoll who helped me create a piece of theatre. We workshopped it for a month, got musicians on board (including my Dad) and the amazing Bellatrix, enlisted a visual artist Charlie Carr-Gomm to create projections for the piece, including some of my old VHS home movies and we made a show. We got funding and backing from venues and toured it around the country, even taking it to a new writing festival in Johannesburg. I've delivered a Tedx talk on the themes of the show and run many workshops with communities in the towns we have visited. The script has recently been published by Burning Eye Books.
Meeting audiences is my favourite part, and sharing the message of the benefits of creative expression through the workshops I teach. I wrote the show to reach out to people, and chatting to them after the show or teaching workshops allows me to hear their similar stories, their experiences of loss or grief or heartbreak. It's an exchange I am honoured to have.
Earlier this week, I got to bring Finding Home to Brighton, my home town, where it all started. It was emotional and poignant. I met so many people who'd been through the same things as me, as well as teaching a workshop at New Writing South. The day after I was in a school, working with young people on sharing their stories before performing the show for them in the evening. Afterwards, I talked to hundreds of students about the show, about their lives, their pain, their feelings. It was so amazing to be able to have open conversations with these young people about difficult topics. It's my favourite thing to do and it compounded for me how blessed I am to be able to do what I do, to offer this show and make the incredible people who make it all worth while.
In the years after I lost Leo, I began volunteering for a mental health charity, CALM. The charity raise awareness of the mental health crisis in the U.K. And encourage young men to be open about their feelings and seek help. You can find out more about them at www.thecalmzone.net