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A Tribute to

Darlene Lucas, 1961-2021

We beam with pride when witnessing one of our own railing against injustice. At a rally protesting unfair cuts to ODSP* at Toronto City Hall in 2011, our high beams were at their brightest. We had come there to support our fellow thespian, the late great Darlene Lucas, as she was scheduled to speak at the event. Her job was to rabble-rouse, and as always she did not disappoint.  She seized the speaker’s microphone, commanded our attention, and delivered her lines:

“ I want everyone to repeat after me”, she ordered:

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!!!” *

Following her lead we repeated the phrase again, and again, until she had whipped us into a state of combined rage and laughter. While we are not sure if her shout-out action had an impact on beaurocrats in ODSP, Darlene’s fire did leave a lasting impression on all who participated. We were empowered by her spunky playful activism, and she inspired us to continue our collective struggle.

We first met Darlene in 2010 at Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS). At that time FSTB was helping to plan the annual Mad Pride Toronto Bed Push Parade. Darlene had volunteered to take part in the planning.  As a company we had been producing an annual Mad Pride event with PCLS since 2001, and by 2010 we were getting tired.  Darlene however, would have none of that.  Her supportive drive and enthusiasm, along with her great big mad pride, energized us to produce a stellar Bed Push Parade that year.

At the event’s opening ceremony Darlene participated in a skit that was based on something called ‘moral therapy’. It had been the shameful practice of exploiting psychiatric patient labour. Taking part in this presentation gave Darlene the chance to showcase her activist spirit. Watching her soar made it clear to us that she belonged onstage.  We encouraged her to become a member of the FSTB.

Although 2010 marked the final year of FSTB’s involvement on the organizing committee for Mad Pride, Darlene stuck with the cause and helped to produce many events in the years that followed.  In 2011 Darlene would take us up on our offer by joining our company of players.

Her generous participation in a variety of justice-seeking initiatives would not go unnoticed.  In 2012 Darlene’s grass roots activism was awarded by PCLS. Later that year she would also share in the credit with FSTB when the group received The Toronto Arts Council’s ACE award (Artistic Community Engagement).

Darlene was a member of the ensemble cast of our production The Walls Are Alive With The Sounds Of Mad People (2011-2013). This was a lively historical tour around the psychiatric patient-built wall at Queen and Shaw Streets. Darlene played the role of Mabel I., a  psych patient who would scavenge the grounds for stray fabric she would use to sew her own clothes.  Historical records claim Mabel’s fashions were so elaborate they were fit for a museum.

A theatre review and publication included Darlene’s personal journey toward finding her activist voice through performance. It was called: Not The Same Old Story, Alternaratives of The Friendly Spike Theatre Band (2014-2015).

In 2017 Darlene would make her last performance with the company when she participated in Madly, I’m Your Fan, a Mad Pride event dedicated to the memory of Leonard Cohen. The evening was hosted by our own Honey Novick, who graciously gave Darlene the last word, which was of course: Hallelujah.

Darlene passed on September 16th, 2021. She has left us with much sadness, as she left too soon. She also left us with many memories that we created together. Her bright light, strength of character, fighting spirit for justice, enduring love of family, and her humanity, are some of her qualities that will live on in our hearts and in our memories. Rest in peace Darlene.

* ODSP the Ontario Disability Support Program

*quote from Network, Cheyefsky, 1975

*The history presented in The Walls Are Alive With The Sounds Of Mad People, is drawn from Remembrance of Patients Past, Patient Life At The Toronto Hospital For The Insane, Reaume, Oxford University Press, 2000

Tribute To A Dear Friend

Don Weitz 1930-2021

We Can’t Forget You – We Won’t Forget You

He was a self-described anti-psychiatry psychiatric survivor, and an anti-poverty shit-disturber activist, all to the benefit of so many, including The Friendly Spike Theatre Band (FSTB). Don Weitz was also an actor and a playwright. He passed away on Wednesday September 1st, with his grown twins Lisa and Mark by his side.

Don became involved with The FSTB in 1993 and he remained an active member until 2007. His contribution helped define the company as being the feisty activist theatre it is, working with passion, like him, toward social justice.

We met Don while conducting research for our play Marked: Living With a Stigma; A Woman’s Journey Through The Psychiatric System (Innes, 1993). Impressed with our production he agreed to play a cameo role in the film adaptation of the story. Seeing that he was an outstanding actor as well as a compelling activist, we invited Don to collaborate with the company and develop Angels of 999; Psychiatric Patients’ History at The Toronto Hospital for the Insane (Reaume/Stackhouse/Innes 1999, 2000). It was presented at The Theatre Centre (1999) and The Great Hall (2000) in Toronto, and an abridged version was performed at The American Association of the History of Medicine Conference (2000) in Bethesda MD, and Disability Culture Night(2000, Ryerson University, Toronto). Don played both a psychiatrist and a farmer who was the caring father of a psychiatric patient. Ironically, Don did embody both the “patient” and “professional” realities in his lifetime. After earning a Masters degree in psychology from Boston University he worked for 15 years as a psychologist in Cleveland and Toronto. But in his youth he was a psychiatric patient, forcibly subjected to 110 insulin sub-coma shock treatments at McLean Hospital. He raged against this and other injustices for the rest of his life. He was in a unique position to challenge “the system”, and he did challenge it, constantly. In 1977 Weitz co-founded the Ontario Mental Patients Association, which was later renamed On Our Own. This was the first self-help survivors group in Ontario. In 1980 he co-founded the magazine Phoenix Rising, which gave voice to survivors in Canada for a decade. He is the author of the e-book Rise Up/Fight Back: Selected Writings of an Antipsychiatry Activist (2011). Many other projects followed – including his 2019 e-book Resistance Matters: The Radical Vision of an Antipsychiatry Activist (madinamerica.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Resistance-Matters-April-2019.pdf)

In late 2000 Don shared with us his seminal rant: Nameless/Homeless. This epic poem about psychiatric survival, homelessness and police brutality inspired our next production The Edmond Yu Project (Weitz/Innes 2001/2007). Edmond Yu was a former medical student and homeless psychiatric survivor who was shot and killed by Toronto police on the Spadina bus in 1997. And then came A Common Cause (2003) for which both Don and his good friend Mel Starkman worked with our collective to develop the story. It was based on Starkman’s psychiatric review board hearing.

Don was also a very caring person – for his daughter Lisa, his son Mark, and for friends who were struggling at times, such as Mel Starkman, whom he helped on several occasions to obtain a place to live. The support from Don allowed Mel to continue his active life in the community and with Friendly Spike.

In later years Don’s busy schedule kept him from being onstage, but he continued to support the company. Many of us will remember one of his last readings, a fiery passionate tribute at a memorial dinner for Mel Starkman after he passed. It was held at The Hot House in 2019. Don closed his piece with “ Rage, rage against the dying of the light”. *

We now remember Don, our dear friend and fellow thespian, with his own words, from a poem he wrote for Edmond Yu : “We can’t forget you. We won’t forget you”. **

* “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” (Dylan Thomas, 1947, from the poem Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night)
** Originally recited for Edmond Wai Kong Yu as “We can’t forget Yu. We won’t forget Yu.” (Weitz, 2000).

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URBAN HERO: Artist Honey Novick uses her talents to encourage creativity in a marginalized community

Set Toronto City Centre as My Local news

By Michele McLeanOnline Editor

Mon., Oct. 25, 2021timer2 min. read

Honey Novick is a singer and poet who shares that passion with her community.

The downtown Toronto resident has found her niche and said she is grateful.

Novick is a Star Metroland Media 2021 Urban Hero Award winner in the Arts category, People’s Choice. 

 “There are very few singers that get money, fame or whatever,” she said. “ I love to sing. That spread to teaching. I realized when I taught others, I realized I was teaching myself.”

Once the door was opened to teaching, it created opportunities to share her talent.

“There is money in the health-care system. I was able to find work teaching others and work kept coming to me,” she said. “It has to be like a flowing river. It has to be serene.”

Ruth Ruth Stackhouse nominated Novick for an Urban Hero Award for dedicating “her skill and talent in music and creative writing/poetry to making theatre more accessible.”

Along with her community-based artistic work, Novick is an artist with the Friendly Spike Theatre Band, a grassroots theatre organization dedicated to encouraging creative expression from people who are often marginalized. 

“Friendly Spike Theatre Band was created to do plays by and for people of the psychiatric community,” Novick said. ”They are very, very creative.”

Stackhouse, who is director and founder of the band, said Novick is making a difference in the community.

“Through her work as an artist-in-residence with the Friendly Spike Theatre Band, she has encouraged countless underserved individuals to participate in a world that habitually dismisses them, and in doing so, this world has become enriched.”

One of Novick’s latest projects is a spoken word piece, “I’m Mad — I Matter, Making a Difference.” It’s a history of the theatre band.

“This is my own epic song/poem, a stream of consciousness about this extraordinary endeavour, and my involvement with it, a relationship going into two decades. With the help of founder/director Ruth Ruth Stackhouse, I am detailing the history of this company (although not comprehensive and with poetic licence) by howling back at tragic madness and creating something beautiful.” See below to view the original article.

https://www.thestar.com/local-toronto-city-centre/news/2021/10/25/urban-hero-artist-honey-novick-uses-her-talents-to-encourage-creativity-in-a-marginalized-community.html

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Honey Novick: Urban Art Hero Award

Congratulations to our own Honey Novick for receiving the  2021 Urban Art Hero Award sponsored by TorStar Communications and Canadian Tire.  This special honour  recognizes her work as artist in residence with The Friendly Spike Theatre Band, along with her many other community based artistic endeavours.

Established in 2009, the Toronto Urban Hero Awards are meant to celebrate community champions in a variety of areas, including the environment, business, and, of course, the arts!  Bravo Honey, you do us proud!

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LIVES LIVED

Psychiatric survivor Mel Starkman turned his experiences into poetry and activism

RUTH STACKHOUSECONTRIBUTED TO THE GLOBE AND MAILPUBLISHED JUNE 24, 2019

This article was published more than 2 years ago. Some information may no longer be current.

Mel Starkman.HANDOUT

Mel Starkman: Activist. Archivist. Psychiatric survivor. Poet. Born March 19, 1942, in Toronto; died March 4, 2019, in Toronto; from choking; aged 76.

Growing up, Mel Starkman was often bullied in a world that values sameness. He had been born with cerebral palsy, and felt stigma’s lash. And yet he developed the courage to overcome those jabs. Mel was a strong student who enrolled in the University of Toronto in 1960 and, after graduation, became a high-school teacher of English and history at Downsview Collegiate. He also worked as a University of Toronto campus archivist until a mental breakdown ended his career.

Hospitalized in the early 1970s, he was given shock treatments that left him feeling like a “zombie.” Psychiatrists believed he had no chance for recovery, a no-hope prognosis. But Mel’s resolve gave him what medicine could not and he did recover to become a social activist, a writer and, later, an actor.

During the late 1970s and early 80s, while living in a rooming house, Mel became a member of On Our Own, Ontario’s first self-help group for ex-psychiatric patients. He helped to organize the Tenth Annual International Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression in Toronto, and became a major contributor to Phoenix Rising, a magazine dedicated to the cause.

Mel preferred advocacy over protest, and in a 1981 newspaper interview he warned of “revolving door syndrome,” in which psychiatric patients would perpetually be in and out of institutional care if more after-care services were not developed. His statement was prophetic. In 1983, he had another breakdown. Some thought he would remain institutionalized for the rest of his days, but in the late 1990s he was able to rejoin his community.

Mel moved into supportive housing and began the third act act of his life. He joined a theatre troupe, allowing him to reclaim and strengthen his voice by writing and performing in plays about his experiences. Struggling to memorize lines, yet never missing a cue, Mel encouraged his cast mates: “If I can do it, you can.” But it was never easy, particularly in his most ambitious theatrical effort, The Edmond Yu Project, named for the student who, in a disturbed state, had assaulted a woman and was killed by a Toronto police officer in 1997.

Mel’s child-like enthusiasm and extraordinary intellect helped many more lives than he knew. In 2001, he co-founded the Psychiatric Survivor Archives, a collection of stories from those who have experienced the psychiatric system. He later became a key player in the development of the Edmond Yu Place, a supportive housing project in Parkdale. In 2010, Mel participated in groundbreaking discussions about the voice-hearing experience, and shared his story online.

Some time in the mid-2000s, while attending a community event, Mel met a volunteer named Gabriele. She became the love of his life. They rented an apartment together and built a happy home. Some time in 2012, when Mel’s health began to decline, he moved back into supportive housing and long-term care.

Until his death, Mel fought against harsh psychiatric treatments and much of this work was done with the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault. In many ways Mel saw the cracks in our midst, especially the ones right in front of us. He will be remembered for his courage and hope and strength to rise above the stigma he knew throughout life.

Ruth Stackhouse is Mel’s colleague and friend.

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