Serotonin - A play with poetry by Thomas Alexander Burke
Serotonin is set in the smoking area of psychiatric hospital, examining male mental health; depression, addiction and suicide.
Serotonin - A play with poetry by Thomas Alexander Burke
Serotonin is set in the smoking area of psychiatric hospital, examining male mental health; depression, addiction and suicide.
URGENT: Please watch each video entry from links below in the order shown:
Note: Turn up volume and watch the whole way through and please read the entire entry - Thank you. firstname.lastname@example.org
SEROTONIN - (A play with poetry) by Thomas Alexander Burke
★★★★☆ (MiroMagazine) ★★★★☆ (LondonTheatre1)
Each video is a journey of my current experience as I am currently held under a Level 2 section, and held at a London Mental Health facility. I am journalling this experience as an outlet to set the tone for my life's work; Serotonin - a play with poetry. I have been a victim but also plainly observed barbaric conditions and I intend the development of my play to reach a larger audience as an essential life changing piece of theatre. A play decorated with poetry, which with budget can reach as many people globally as possible and "open our eyes to lives of those who've died inside."
Budget will provide not only payment for the cast and crew but will ensure a successful marketing campaign and fundamentally to meet the venue costs to house many extended runs at top London and New York venues. It's time to set the stage for the extinction of the mental health crisis; relieving the stigma and allowing those that see it to understand and empathise with these unfortunate people (laballed patients) that are held in these out-dated, inhumane and freedom witholding facilities.
This Kickstarter campaign finishes as the new year begins and I can only hope at this point that I will make it out to spend Christmas with my family - though I am now homeless too so I hope to have somewhere to live within the new year that isn't here! I can say honestly that sleeping rough is an abomination and nobody deserves that (and it's simply not necessary either!) but it is still better than a life with no freedom stuck on a ward, labelled; insane...
My name is Thomas Alexander-Burke and I have written a play entitled Serotonin - a play with poetry, which examines male mental health from the smoking area of a psychiatric facility, with particular focus on depression, addiction and suicide. (See full play synopsis at bottom.)
Following a successful run in August for the Camden Fringe festival, Serotonin received two ★★★★☆ reviews (links to reviews at the bottom), as well as sell-out performances and was unanimously well received.
I wrote Serotonin mostly based on personal experience, having suffered severe chronic depression the majority of my life, and alternating various addictions in many forms. These addictions fluctuated from substance and behavioural and I was sectioned at the age of 19 after multiple attempts of suicide.
"It's the answer unasked I’m after, the unmasked master, the unhappily never ever after."
I was fortunate that I had a good support network from my father, step-mother and sister as it was very difficult to receive proper care through the NHS and private care was well out of our financial reach. The way I learned to help myself and battle through my mental health problems was a long quest of looking within myself. My mother died of breast cancer when I was a boy, and I often blamed my illness on that. I was resentful for it, as I felt robbed and I witnessed the pain I was feeling through the eyes of my family too as we all suffered in our own way. After I was sectioned at 19 my real journey began, though I was still battling addictions and depression I really began to learn myself. For years I would hate myself for being different, for not being confident enough or for not fitting into societal convention. As I grew older I began to loath convention and started to understand that it was my unique sensitivity and compassion that was my greatest attribute. I often wondered why I was so emotional a lot of the time, why I would cry so easily and I was frustrated. I seemed to carry the pain of the past wherever I went. Acting was always my outlet, I was able to be the person I wanted to be in real life, not corrupted by lack of confidence, not perturbed by mental illness or the discouragement of others. I realised that rather than merely carrying my pain, I could look at it differently and proudly wear my pain, drawing on it with ease at the right time. Acting was made easy, emotion was there for me summon and I was finally in control of it. It was this minor adjustment that lead to self-empowerment and my self-hatred turned to self-love. I loved my pain because it shaped me, defined me and pushed me to the best version of myself.
"Depression is a disease of perception, what was once beautiful becomes a distorted deception. Dreams burst in our sollom stance of suffering in the making, Forced smiles to barricade our darkness from ever escaping."
Since August unfortunately I have had recurring problems with my mental health, circumstances with family, friends and finance severely corrupted my life. Then sadly my depression and anxiety hit rock bottom as I watched people I loved disappear from my life without a glance backward. I ended up back in a psychiatric facility six years after my first and only sectioning. I was stunned to see how the conditions have deteriorated, the budget has been cut dramatically, staff are often under-qualified and definitely under-appreciated. Whilst the patients are simply denied basic freedoms and are treated as prisoners. The food is devoid of nutrition without any regard to ethical sourcing or the health of patients or to those with any dietary requirements. There is simply no help given to those who desperately need it, and the fate of the patients is determined by doctors who merely glance at a clipboard rather than spend any time with those they are holding hostage. No patient I spoke to was happy to be there, they felt mistreated, or unheard, or felt that they were not good enough or worth it, and had either settled on that fact and those that didn't would often be drugged until they were. This is not an exaggeration, I have been on three different wards and saw this clearly on each of them (though conditions do vary quite dramatically between wards - but even those better are still unacceptable). The doctors and staff are not to blame, they are merely a part of a bigger systemic problem - and it's very frustrating to see their skills and expertise often go to waste. They're usually compassionate and fantastic people as they are all geared towards success in mental health, but their own unique gifts are often squandered and without nurturing and limited by being caged into a rigidly clinical, compartmentalised and broken system. They do not even seem to be aware of the larger problem, or feel powerless and limited to do anything to stop it. I also want to make clear that I have so much respect and admiration for the staff, they too are suffering and are victims of a vicious, expired system. Many work over time and do their very best for the patients and they are the flicker of hope for the patients as they boldly exert themselves to ensure they have as much support as they can. The problem is simply that they do not have enough time and are often unable to see the facility through the eyes of the patients, who often hide their inner turmoil.
"Watching the clock but not ever present,
denying our emotions with antidepressants,
eating toxic food, drinking toxic drink,
being told what to do, being told what to think.
Smelling the cleaning eyes start streaming,
tasting made sour, from pills every hour,
Hearing screams from fearing dreams.
Touching restricted, no accidents afflicted!"
Serotonin is not only based on personal experiences but also what I have examined observing the world around me, inside and outside the facilities. The topics are close to home but I have also researched thoroughly including works from Carl Jung, Dr. Gabor Mate (the leading expert on addiction) as well as numerous sources that examine mental health, depression, societal and cultural expectations of men, guided by intuition and the most highly regarded individuals researching these essential topics. As I develop the play I will only continue to fully ground this research intermingled with my own experiences of how they are defined to me personally and how they are often viewed by society.
"Einstein proclaimed insane to be remaining the same, that results will change. But is it ingrained? How can we abstain if we're addicted pain?"
As I write this I am held on a level 2 section which I have appealed after an incident that was deemed to be self-harm, even though it was an accident and I have made clear it was not self-harm. Unfortunately my medical history overrides my words and I sit feeling like a glorified prisoner in a ward full of over-worked and exhausted staff tending to patients who are either crying for help or taking their frustration out on each other and the establishment. I feel most safe in the bed that I write this and knowing that my door cannot lock is not a comfort to help me sleep at night, I can assure you. This is not paranoia based on any medicine or medical condition, this is genuine fear that becomes apparent when the ward doors are shut and you are banished from the outside world until a doctor who has barely met you may decide it is acceptable for you to leave, which god forbid may never happen.
"JACK: Just answer me this Doctor. You have labelled me insane for attempting suicide, then prescribe me anti-depressants. The potential side effects of which include; suicide. And I’m insane?"
"If my son is not a threat to himself or a threat to anyone else, then why is here?" These were the words my Dad asked the doctor at my last assessment when I was on a voluntary section a fortnight ago. The doctor failed to believe my true allegations against the police who had physically and sexually assaulted me with no provocation whatsoever. The doctor wanted to turn a voluntary admittance into a month long sectioning and it was those words from my Dad that brought him back to reality and made him realise that there was no acceptable justification for holding me any longer. I was lucky and I realised that without my Dad, an identified 'sane' individual it may not have gone that way and I may have been subjected to another month of prison conditions with no help given.
"JACK: Hang on...since being here I’ve been labelled depressed, alcoholic, addict, conspiracy nut...Oh and the latest, this is a fan favourite, INSANE!"
"You are not a criminal." Said the doctor. "Then why are you incarcerating me?" I replied.
My recent experiences in these facilities have been utterly awful; draining, agonising and tortorous. I have managed to find some solace in trying my best to lift the spirits of other patients and staff suffering alike, but found myself all too often wallowing in my own sadness that is entirely attributed to the conditions of the place. Inspiration has struck and I have began layering and adding details to my ideas for the development of Serotonin, adding the intensity of the home itself. I really want to get across the agony and painful monotony of life on the ward and the fear of an illusive doctor brandishing the power of freedom or insanity. The concept that your own idea of sanity is secondary to a person who has no idea about who you are is terrifying and what is even more terrifying is the fear of being honest may go against you and be seen as insanity. So really it becomes a game of trying to interpret how the hospital and society as a whole views sanity and trying to imitate it as best you can, even at the cost of your own self. It is ironic that the most insanity in these facilities is with the people who tell you if you are or not. Again I am not blaming the doctors who hold this power, they too are often decent hard working and under appreciated people who really try and give the best for the patients, they are not bad people necessarily but see their work as helpful, which at times it can be. But it is also a terrifying thought that in the same swift motion of condemning a person to a month's sectioning can be seen by the patient and doctor as complete opposite and the doctor may well sleep well that night thinking he has helped someone while the patient lies awake terrified that the conditions will be too much to bear but safe in the knowledge that freedom would have saved them.
"A tired heart still lives inside, a heart the size of a fist, a heart that’s appropriately sized; as it fights to keep us out of the mist. A heart that’s Beating. A heart that’s not beaten."
What became frustratingly clear even to me as I loomed the corridors of the cramped ward, was how easy it would be to solve some of the major problems in the conditions of the facility. On a ward comprised of a constant blaring of toxicity from a TV 24 hours a day, air that felt dense and un-refreshing, windows sealed tight as a reminder of no escape, not even in death. Bed's that were plastic, uncomfortable with harsh fabrics, food that was plain and completely lacked any variety of substance and activities that lacked any creativity or any appeal to any person at all. I noticed how few patients were actually on a ward and although I saw how budget cuts affected the hospital I considered how it would actually be cheaper to provide these people with full and part-time carers in their own accommodation. Food could actually be cooked from proper ingredients with simple healthy ingredients rather than microwaved toxic sludge. Activities could involve stepping outside and would be just as appreciated by staff as the patients. Beds could be made comfortable and sleep could actually be enjoyed rather than be the drug-induced end to a monotonous day. The TV could be switched off, and instead books that may allow the reader to temporarily escape into any fiction better than the life they have on the ward would provide more solace than meaningless celebrity gossip and fear mongering news. I often thought how easy it would be, how budget is not an excuse, how these practises and methods could in fact save money and more importantly help the people held against their will.
"Pain can manifest in unthinkable ways but when we can stay, and not look the other way, even the darkest of shame can be met without disdain as perhaps it’s innate, our possible fate, if this life had simply befell us just another way. Once the mirror is tamed love can be reclaimed, a life ascertained."
Serotonin was 1 hour and 25 mins in length and included sections of spoken word poetry. Now with my new awareness I want to make it a full length two hour play, to include a sinister doctor voice-over to outline to fear and power of this illusive figure. I also want to make Alfie (the supporting male) a BAME actor, as I have witnessed how race is still a major factor in how patients are seen and the lack of opportunities available to them, and how the discrimination to their culture has often lead them to be held within these facilities in the first place. It will also balance Jack's character who is simply given more freedom and has better options and it can be due to his white privilege, though he is definitely not free from the suffering of the place.
"They say dis is a man's world, but I say; MAN this world..."
Sara is the nurse and I will go further into how she is almost like a patient, she gives herself entirely to the home and to the patients and I want her to be able to offer some of the basic, cost effective methods that could tremendously help these people (that I have highlighted) be ignored due to her low position in the hospital and the fact that she is woman, a problem I have sadly witnessed here too.
"SARA: My salary may be slightly too basic to be bathing in champagne Jack..."
Poetry is what saves Jack in the home as he desperately attempts to holds on to his self and not the let the horror of the place shake him of his identity. This is true for myself and I have spent hours desperately trying to hold onto myself on this ward through words of poetry which will no doubt play a major part in Serotonin's revival.
"Perhaps depression is only our soul's digression."
It has never been more apparent that there is a crisis in mental health that goes far beyond mental health facilities. Many men are too afraid to ask for help and suicide numbers are constantly increasing. Addiction is still an increasing problem too, through alcohol, gambling, drugs, money, work and many more. Depression is becoming the norm, and despite it's overwhelming presence in our cultural is still often met with trepidation and stigma and those suffering remain silent as they slowly waste away from the inside out.
"Addicted to addiction, indulging to excess, submerges all success. The very remedy I seek to save me - this unconscious melody devoid of memory."
I have never been more passionate about addressing the problems I have highlighted in the play and have witnessed since that I wish to tackle in the revival. I plan to perform in Brighton initially and would want to alter the production for a London and national tour, alter it too for schools and universities and then adapt it further to an international audience. I would also be very interested in working to create a film version all with the same goal to be seen by as many people as possible and to aim to spread awareness of this global mental health crisis and to help those understand it begins with how one views themselves. I continue to boldly wear my pain in performance and in the face of those that may challenge these difficult topics and I will not stop until people in need may get the help they deserve, removing all obstacles and making a clear path to healing to better themselves and the planet we all inhabit.
The previous production was produced by myself and the director at our own cost and put us completely out of pocket. The money I attempt to raise would cover a venue, pay the cast and crew and allow marketing to soar and target as many people as possible to see this (what I hope to be) an essential piece of theatre. Any further money would allow to take the production further, giving us more to work with for the production, opening doors for tours and adaptation to film and setting sights for international territories too.
To be clear, while I suffer from mental illness and have very little money to look after myself. This play and this new awareness is motivation and the money will be used entirely to build, develop and share this play with as many people as possible and works too as my own drug-free antidepressant as there is nothing better for depression than making the world less depressing and allowing the world at least to understand what on earth depression even is.
"ALFIE: ... depression ain't contagious Sara..."
Direct donations would be far more advantageous as Kickstarter is only possible if we meet our target.
For those wishing to support the cause directly please share whatever you can spare (and nothing more!) to:
Account Number: 78320356
Sort Code: 60-17-36
Please also follow me on Twitter and subscribe to my YouTube channel (ThomasAlexanderBurke) for regular content: @Mr_T_A_Burke @Serotonin_Play
"This production is a signpost for a collection of bright new lights on the theatrical landscape" ★★★★☆ London Theatre
"A piece of theatre ready to open up a discussion, Serotonin excels in championing awareness regarding mental health and suicide. Thomas keeps his eyes on the story throughout his sensitive — yet painfully accurate — representation of depression, never straying from his natural inclination to be a storyteller, thus imbuing his work with thematic relevance rather than making it plainly about an agenda." ★★★★☆ Miro Magazine
Full Synopsis: (written by Rowan Jacobs)
Serotonin is a play set in the smoking area of a psychiatric hospital. Three people smoke there, for three different reasons.
Jack has depression. He tried to kill himself and is resentful that he failed. Alfie has bipolar disorder, and relies on the support around him to stop him from losing control. Sarah? She must be normal - she works there.
Digging deeper, we find that there's more to our three characters than how their medical history defines them. Jack is an addict, used to numbing his niggling lack of self-confidence with alcohol - and would kill for a drop on the inside as he struggles to cope in an unfamiliar world. Alfie grew up in a testosterone-filled family, and is consequently struggling to come to terms with his own masculinity (or perceived lack of it). Sarah became a social worker to deal with her own family trauma, hoping that by helping others it may alleviate her guilt.
Over the course of our narrative, with the use of spoken word poetry, we invite the question of medication versus spirituality, and society’s current mental health perspectives, attempting to encourage an important conversation regarding male suicide and its prevalence in modern times.
Risks and challenges
An immediate challenge was the circumstances of being held inside a mental health facility - with no freedom at all and I have been given no clear date as to when it would change. Fortunately I am now off the section and back to staying with friends. I have managed to gather some great people on board, including producers and various other artists and supports. Our biggest challenge is that we do not have the funds ourselves to undertake this project that we all hold in our hearts.
The problems I faced before in the previous production were simply down to lack of budget. We had cast that were underpaid and therefore were unreliable, we had no set and had little rehearsal time due to having to work other jobs to support ourselves. Our marketing attempts were poor as we had to do everything ourselves. The budget will ensure every team member is paid a basic amount and we can develop a decent set and above invest in a suitable marketing strategy to make sure that as many people see this play as possible. While it may just be me that remains from the previous production, I am blessed with the support of my friends and family and have invaluable industry connections, that when budget is available will all flock together set to tell this important story.
I really see no risk at all that may derail this vision, merely I have set sights as high as possible and it will be up to us all to see how far we can take this. I am confident that we will get there and I will work for the rest of my life to make Serotonin a piece of theatre that can change our global perspective on mental health and rather scorn those that suffer, may they learn to wear their pain with pride and dare to speak out and receive the help they need and deserve, together as one family.
Thank you all for reading - I hope you ready to join me in this journey to alleviate the crisis of mental health once and for all.
Lots of Love, Thomas Alexander Burke
- (21 days)