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Off the chain: Toronto celebrates Mad Pride Week

July 9th, 2010 · No Comments

By Min Kang

Mayor David Miller has officially proclaimed July 12 to 18th  Mad Pride Week.

“It’s throwing the word back in the face of the general public who think mad is a horrible kind of state to be in, so we throw it back into the face of society, just like gays throw queer back, and there are various groups in Mad Pride who take different positions on the whole matter. Some are psychiatrized, some are just  ‘normal people’,” said Mel Starkman, a co-organizer of Mad Pride.

Borrowing from Gay Pride, Mad Pride attempts to reclaim terms that are used against them as a source of empowerment, giving the self-proclaimed mad community the opportunity to celebrate their own difference, and raise awareness of the obstacles that they face including the stigma attached to being in the psychiatric system

The Mad Pride organizing committee comprises of a group of psychiatric survivors and friends within the city including The Friendly Spike Theatre Band (TFSTB), an artist-run community theatre dedicated to encouraging theatrical expression for psychiatric and consumer survivors.

Heinz Klein, a co-organizer and technical director for Mad Pride explains that the psychiatric survivor community in Parkdale is strong because many survivor migrated to the area after deinstitutionalization.

“Parkdale in itself was really close to Queen Street and to the old Lakeshore hospital. So people gathered here together and they really created a life for themselves here. That’s why there is a high population of psychiatric survivors and others who have been affected by the mental health system in this area. There are certain services here that other parts of the city don’t have or only sporadically have, like the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC), created to accommodate people who have been pushed out of hospitals just simply to give them a place to hang out.”

Starkman added, “Basically it grows out of poverty. You know, when you are poor and you can’t cope with society you get into a situation where you’re strung out and more and more people are entering that stage in this failing economy, and more and more people are turning to the whole concept of madness to express themselves—they are angry they have to live in such a way that they are oppressed, and that’s a very dangerous way to live.”

Klein believes that Mad Pride Week is just the right outlet for channelling that expression.

“To celebrate Mad Pride and make it a weeklong event is actually using something which I call, ‘creative resilience’. That means we are overcoming the obstacles in the kind of creative way that claims for us the label mad as something positive, whereas everybody else is looking at that and says it’s something negative.”

The big event at this year’s festivities will undoubtedly be the “Bed Push,” on July 17, involving survivors in pyjamas pushing a gurney dressed like a bed with sheets covered in words of empowerment. Ruth explains that the bed push—originating in 2006 by Rufus May, a psychiatric survivor and activist in England—is a metaphor for Mad Pride.

“We push out of the medical model of understanding difference and into the community,” said Ruth Ruth, community theatre director with TFSTB. The Bed Push starts on the grounds of CAMH, down Queen West, into Parkdale and stops at PARC.

Though this may sound “crazy” to some, Klein observes that there are much crazier decisions going on in the world.

“We have over a hundred thousand homeless people living in the city, and yet the government wants to spend over a billion dollars to accommodate 20 people instead of spending only ten percent of this money to accommodate a hundred thousand of their own kind in this country. That is madness. And they call us mad. But what they are doing is madness.”

Every year The Friendly Spike Theatre Band develops a community based play. This year they will be staging, The Dega and the Delbasid, at 20 Westlodge Ave. on July 16 at 7 p.m. To find out more details of events happening on Mad Pride Week, click here.

Tags: Arts · General