Snap Out Of It!

An important work that asks us “not to feel, but to consider”, writes HANNAH MIRSKY.

Pembroke New Cellars, 7pm, Tue 5th – Sat 9th March, £5

directed by Charlie Bindels and Elizabeth Schenk

 

I know what you’re thinking. You’ve seen the flyers, read the publicity. You’re thinking ‘devised verbatim theatre’ – really? This is a play that calls itself a ‘project’. Sounds a bit poncy. Sounds, to be honest, like what thesps come up with when they’ve started taking themselves a touch too seriously.

And, thinking this, you wouldn’t be miles away from the truth. The performance is preceded by an introduction from the directors explaining that the show is built up out of the real-life words of those who have suffered from mental health problems, and that this a way of ‘breaking down silence barriers’ surrounding mental health. This impossible-to-miss explanation of the concept is repeated at the start of the actual performance by one of the actors, who worries about ‘tainting the words with my own emotions’. My heart was sinking at this point. However right the motivation behind this show might be, it looked like I was in for an hour of two of worthy over-emoting. How wrong I was.

It makes a lot of difference that the texts that are read out (literally, from pieces of paper scattered about the room) are texts in which personality shines through. ‘Tea is the answer to everything’ was a phrase that came up early on in this particular performance – the show is different every night – and a reproduction of an interview contained an account of the individual’s parents looking at her ‘like “Umm…sorry what?”‘.

At moments like these you’re blisteringly aware that these are real people’s words. This is not po-faced angst. It’s asking you to take mental health problems seriously not on the grounds that they represent some terrible, unknowable affliction, but because they affect rounded individuals – it’d be a cliché to say ‘just like you and me’ – who suddenly find themselves not themselves, unable to get on with the lives they want to lead. It doesn’t shy away from the tragic and terrible aspects but it does place them in a recognisable context: a shocking first-person account of a suicide attempt included the fact that the individual had been watching The Social Network earlier the same evening.

I wasn’t moved by this production. I never welled up or got shivers. I don’t think you’re supposed to. To exploit these people’s experiences just to deal the audience an emotional blow would be wrong, and it would miss the entire point of this kind of documentary theatre. Some of the least convincing moments were those that felt too acted: sudden shouting, or the points at which the actors addressed the audience directly, in speeches that were fairly clearly not entirely spontaneous, but tried to pass themselves off as such, one even ending with the phrase ‘I just felt that was something I had to say’. This is not a show that needs to be highly wrought, and it is not a show which needs to comment on itself. It’s at its best when what it’s doing is simply presenting all this collated material to the audience, in plain speech, and asking us not to feel but to consider. To listen and form our own opinions.

So yes, it’s not exactly a bundle of laughs, but it’s far from a vanity exercise. It’s the opposite of the kind of indulgent student theatre that, however slick, exists for no reason other than its own slickness. Snap Out Of It! is full of content that really means something, that is showing you what people out there in the world are going through. Mental health is a topic that is beginning to be discussed openly in Cambridge (see marvellous articles in The Tabhere, here and here – and in Varsity here), but more awareness is still necessary. Go and see this show.

  • Anonymous

    nice to see cambridge students doing something to raise awareness about mental illnesses – shame the government doesn’t see to give a shit.

  • Bradley

    So bloody true…! There’s so much wrong with voluntourism that I don’t even know where to begin. Fundamentally, it operates on the racist and Orientalist notion that people from the West (mainly white people) who have little experience in hands-on labour are somehow capable of making a difference in the lives of the people they ‘help’, which works on the presumption that these people are unable to help themselves in the first place. It mirrors colonialism so closely that it’s not even funny.

    I think the ultimate purpose of these voluntourist projects are to stop us from asking the truly important questions. I’m sure these voluntourists feel really great about ‘giving something back’ and all that crap – and unfortunately these kinds of things have that cathartic effect which leads many to never think about these issues again. They’ve been there (to the ‘third world’), done that, got the t-shirt, that’s their bit done. What we all really need to do is ask, why is there such a huge global gulf between rich and poor in the first place? Those students you mentioned who openly admitted that they didn’t know what they were doing must’ve thought at least once, “What am I doing here when the people we’re ‘helping’ are better at the job than we are?” As I said, I think the point is to discourage us from really thinking about it – instead we’re encouraged to look at it as both a little feel-good act of altruism and a great holiday wrapped up in a nice bundle.

    • Pip

      So it’s preferable to spend those £0000′s taking the classic gap yah and hopping on a plane to the full moon party in Thailand? I don’t understand where the issue lies, they had the option to spend that money on booze and binge but they chose to volunteer, however poorly organised the effort might have been. I applaud them for at least trying.
      Also where on earth have you got the idea that volunteering is creating the gap between rich and poor? The whole point is to try to close it by teaching them sustainability techniques and helping them to help themselves. Even if you only have an impact on one life then it’s worth it.
      Stop being so bloody cynical. These people have paid thousands to charity and have tried to do something good rather than swanning off inter-railing in Europe or something instead. I bet you haven’t sat on your arse at home online donating thousands to charity.

      • Bradley

        I never said it was any better or worse than taking a holiday. I was simply pointing out the issues that I have with the voluntourism industry. I’m sure some of these projects do some good and I don’t doubt that many people who take part do so with good intentions. But that doesn’t excuse the huge issues inherent in voluntourism. I don’t think I’m being cynical at all. I believe in self-determination and that people are capable of helping themselves, no matter who they are or where they come from, as long as they are given the opportunity to do so. However, voluntourism reinforces the idea that ‘backward’ peoples need ‘enlightened’ white people to help them one village at a time out of poverty. But the real reason why poor countries are poor is because of corrupt governments which neglect to help their own citizens. Most of these governments are propped up by other states (including Western ones) who want those peoples to remain poor and available as cheap labour to gather resources and manufacture goods for the West. That system needs to change massively for poverty to be eradicated. Voluntourism does a bit of good but ultimately it serves that system, and so it will never fundamentally change things.

        Oh, and try not to presume so much about someone you don’t even know. What I have and have not done in the past is irrelevant, I’m simply putting forward my opinion. And btw, I haven’t donated thousands to charity because I don’t have thousands to give. Most of the money I’ve had has either been spent on supporting myself or supporting my parents who have difficulty supporting themselves right now. So keep your nasty assumptions to yourself next time

      • Jack

        The money being spent on these projects ends up back where it started – in the UK. The whole idea of volunteering is to try an help a struggling economy. I went to Africa with one of these companies, I have no idea where the money was actually going. We stayed in horrible conditions (whilst the owners had a private room) and were frequently pestered in to taking trips, which they organised. The money seemed to end up in their hands.

        We did little volunteering, on the days we did it was only for a few hours. One girl really summed up the people there, she said (sounding confused) “Oh, I can hear all the children singing, but none of us are in there leading it?” These “volunteers” genuinely believed that the children could only be happy when us, the rich white people, showed them how to be.

        It would be better if the money were simply donated to the country, or organisations who put it in to the country.

        You slate those that go on gay years and spend all their money in hotels and bars but at least their money is going in to the local economy. At least people on a gap year have the guts to call it what it is. The volunteers stick on a t-shirt and call themselves a volunteer, all the while taking a cheap holiday.

        My only regret is not taking a gap year, instead I have made some British students wealthier and contributed nothing worthwhile to the country I stayed in.

      • Nathaniel

        “So it’s preferable to spend those £0000′s taking the classic gap yah and hopping on a plane to the full moon party in Thailand?”

        Actually in a lot of cases, yes! Many forms of charity from building schools to donating clothes are actually counterproductive as the free labour/clothes undermines their economy.

        Parts of Africa actually used to have a thriving textiles industry. It collapsed once the wave of free clothes from the west came along. These people don’t need free clothes, they need an economy that will provide it for them.

        This isn’t really the fault of the volunteers, despite them being an easy scapegoat, but it is a problem with the system and the collective attitude that we have in the west that as Bradley says, clearly mimics colonialism.

  • yo,

    great article

  • Henry

    Many of the the points made in the article are true. However, it is unfair to dub all volontourism with the same brush. It is true that locals are likely to be better qualified than students at tasks involving manual labour. However, going out to teach English in developing countries can still be incredibly helpful. Having access to native English speakers, whether they are professionally trained teachers or not, is something which many people in developing countries want and appreciate. This is not a Colonial ‘we must impose our language’ viewpoint. Knowing English and learning it first-hand is an immense life-advantage for many.

    • http://pornhub.com lol

      Studies show that individuals who have taken part in voluntourism in the past are far likelier to continue doing charity work or donate to charities [in a similar field] having experienced the need for that charity work first hand, than compared someone who has never gotten that experience. No harm done with voluntourism, in my opinion, and each to their own. The author wants to bash those people, and I can’t really think why that’s necessary.

      • HowYaGoin?!

        Do you want to link us to these studies? The point made in this article about rich white kids coming over and doing jobs that could otherwise be given to locals who are probably better suited to be doing such work is bang-on.

        Furthermore, the fact of the matter is that thinking these people need or even want the help of rich white kids who don’t know what the fuck they are doing only plays into racial stereotyping.

        Volunteerism does not tackle any of the overriding issues behind these countries poverty.

  • Just Saying…

    London’s a big place. Not everyone went to private school and owns a vineyard.

  • Anon

    I didn’t think I was going to take this article seriously but your consistent and aggressive swearing really convinced me otherwise.

    • Will

      I agree. The swearing is very immature. A lot of these articles are the same and generally emphasis peoples lack intelligence in their in ability to find a better descriptive word. Its showing off.

  • mg

    This is the best opinion I’ve seen on The Tab.

  • Lance

    I’m pretty sure this has been said 100 times before. There’s really nothing new in here. And I don’t get the bit about northerners and private schools – how is that relevant?

  • Anon

    If you’d done your research properly, ICS offers UK volunteers a chance to work with placement volunteers over a three month period. Volunteers are required to raise £800 which goes directly to the community, whereas flights, visa’s, medical and living costs are all funded for by the UK government in a scheme that is running until 2015. I completely agree that voluntourism does exist, but do not tar all schemes with the same brush when there are some available that actually allow UK volunteers to make a difference.

  • Sarah-Joy Wickes

    I get the point this is making, and I actually agree. However I would have more respect for the writer if they were looking for ways to do things differently, or offering other ways that students can get involved in issues they care about instead of writing a really aggressive article about it.

    We get your point. Stop telling us what not to do and making people feel shit, and why not promote whatever you think is a better way for young people to actively and helpfully contribute? Give us ideas. Give us solutions and alternatives. Writing an article moaning about others isn’t exactly much better.

  • Gino

    It does confuse me sometimes how people believe they benefit others more by flying over to help, when that money itself could be so much more usefully spent – they have a shortage of wealth and material, not manpower! And especially not cack-handed student manpower! Best article I’ve seen so far, thanks for the change Tab.

  • Yeah, but no but

    I guess what you could say is that many people want to see the world and volunteering is probably a more hands on and less artificial way (compared to going to a tourist hotel and guided trips) of doing that. I wouldn’t say have an objection to volunteering so long as you don’t pretend that you’re making the world so much better with your expensive presence.

  • Alex

    I find this article unnecessarily aggressive towards people who aren’t doing anyone any harm.

  • gods hand

    very well said

  • Sam

    How is the socioeconomic status of the people who go on these trips relevant in the slightest? A lot of this is criticising people for being wealthy.

    • Sam

      Also no young people are going to donate somewhere in the region of £1000 upwards to an international development charity just like that…whether or not the people are qualified to make a difference these schemes allow young people to discover from a first-hand experience inequalities between countries and encourage them to do something about it. Even if they did nothing directly helpful while they were there at least they’ve seen it, and the experience will definitely impact their world view and encourage them to get involved with development projects and donating to charities when they are older…this article offers up absolutely nothing detrimental about voluntourism and while i might be convinced that the immediate and direct benefits of it are limited i still see that there are benefits. Whatever the student’s motivations and lifestyle are i’m happy that they want to go and explore something new and alien to them and at least attempt to help people rather than spending the money to stay in a nice villa in Spain.

      • Sam

        As a final thought. Self-righteous people who post hundreds of photos of their trip on facebook and tell you about all the amazing things that they did (or as you maybe rightly asserted, didn’t) do is annoying and rude…but by no means immoral or a justification for people not to go on these trips.

  • David Shaw

    Voluntary work is virtually a prerequisite to success, what investment bank will recruit someone that hasn’t volunteered for a charity abroad?

  • The irony

    Voluntiarism will not solve the problems in the 3rd world, however similar to the no-make up selfie thing it does make people aware of the situation. The people that volunteer are not doing any harm to anybody, it’s they’re money as well. The author has done nothing but people bash and look down on others from a high horse he/she seems to be riding and thrown in a bit of south-north prejudice for good measure. He has suggested absolutely nothing as to how voluntiarism can be better approached to achieve better results. If people that undertake voluntiarism are doing it as nothing more than a feel-good as according to the author then this article is nothing more than a self-righteous rant from a cynical person who cares about filling column inches and nothing more.

  • food for thought

    Agreed, I myself was thinking of going on one of these organised volunteering trips until I saw the horrifying asking price and thought how much of a difference that money could make if it went directly to the local community.. However, I have a terrible suspicion that the author may be an Ibiza regular who’s only writing this article to (cue horrified intake of breath) make herself feel better about never even brushing over the general concept of “giving something back”. Moral of the story: ain’t no such thing as a selfless good deed, but (as long as you’re honest with yourself) a “selfish” good deed is still better than no good deed at all, and it is DEFINITELY better than no good deed + writing an article like this… In other words, it looks a lot like this article too is an attempt to cure your middle class guilt. Sorry.

    • same person

      And a very VERY poor attempt at that…

    • Will

      SPOT ON. I finished reading it with harsh dislike and suspicion of Ekin myself. It’s almost personal, other than highlighting the real issue here. Not impressed and iv gained more of an insight from reading peoples comments.

  • Nah

    How is the realisation that one is privileged and therefore has the means to get ‘active’/'do something’ an inherent ‘problem’? I agree that the ubiquitous smugness and self-satisfaction resulting from these trips is annoying, but ultimately this is just the redistribution of Mummy and Daddy’s wealth and that can’t be so bad. Also the swearing in this article renders the author’s credibility to be pretty lacking, almost like a bitter rambling vice journalist but worse cus its The Tab.

  • Not all the same

    Not all people who go volunteering are like this. I went last summer to uganda, im not privately educated and i didnt have some deluded attitude about saving the world etc. I went because its something I’ve always wanted to do; see a different part of the world and do something that im proud of and will always remember. It also wasnt a trip where I was putting bricks into a wheelbarrow with no idea what i was fucking doing. Instead i taught english, maths and science in a school that requested volunteer teachers. The organisation I went with helps out in lots of different ways in the community not just with volunteer teachers. Lots of local people are employed by the organisation and have a living through it. Sure there are lots of pricks who go off without any idea what theyre doing, to get a tan, get drunk, piss about and pat some kids on the head. But not all volunteers are like this, bit harsh to paint us all with the same brush. Go on http://www.volunteeruganda.org to see good decent volunteers.

  • Anon

    Would of put money on this article being written by George Allen, poor journalism once again just undermining people trying to do what they can.

  • Anon

    Oh for fucks sake stop being such a cynic.

  • Ralph

    Possibly the worst thing to come out of the tab thus far. The only thing that is self indulgent is the article itself – a vain attempt to attack the middle class in some way… To slander volunteering, whatever the cost and whatever the motivation, is to write-off all charity as a means of feeling better about oneself. Recognising that we are in a position to help and acting upon that realisation, no matter the magnitude of the act, is surely worthwhile.

  • Danny

    Understandably the volunturism industry is rapidly being capitalized on, with an increasing number of companies operating under a guise. It’s also a given that affluent middle class students will fall for these companies’ advertisements. However this article fails to mention the countless students that fund raise (money goes directly to communities) and go on to teach English for example. As a Native English speaker your experience with the language is invaluable to those trying to learn from scratch. Manual labor is simple to pick up, under the guidance of those better able extra hands can be very useful. You write fairly well, however your cynical point of view lets it down. Don’t generalize about an industry where many are trying and succeeding in making a difference.

  • guest

    So your ACTUAL point is – volunteer projects are mostly pointless, if you care about making a difference then you should find a more effective way; not – everyone who says they want to make a difference is a lying, spoilt, self-indulgent middle class prick. Perhaps your anger and frustration would be better aimed at those who organise such futile projects, rather than well-meaning yet misled volunteers?

  • Adam

    This article reeks of butthurt. Who cares if students want to spend their money on something like this?! The piece doesn’t detail anything actually detrimental about Volunteering except that “oh… well they’re too smug… they could have like… spent their money on charity instead”.

    What is so wrong about wanting to experience another culture and maybe try helping a bit at the same time? That’s more than most people do on a normal holiday and if you don’t like people bragging *shocker*… don’t seek them out or actively listen.

    The assistance the volunteers offer might not be top notch but they’re doing something. Also, Generalizing “the majority” who participate in these kinds of programs is just ignorant. The article offers zero solutions or ways to improve the volunteering, just complaints.

    The irony here is that this piece is bashing ‘self congratulating volunteers’, when the writer sounds like they have a seriously bad superiority complex themselves.

    Your horse is too stoned Ekin, get off it.

  • Kat McKenna

    Written in the tone of an jealous ranter; including ‘Fucking’ in your article doesn’t make you radical or boundary pushing, it just makes you seem like an idiot who can’t convey their opinions with reason and instead has to result to aggression. Reminds me of the childish strategy of “Na na I can’t hear you!”

    Stop hating on people who aren’t doing any harm. Their money is better spent (And invested) in LEDCs than in Majorca. Also, many of these people are inspired by seeing poverty first hand and go on to do great things for charities.

  • chm

    I think you’ve got the jist of a point but you’ve massively over-looked people who volunteer and influence positive change on a small scale and why should that be ‘kept to themselves’? I think you need to step away from the computer angry Ekin and put your efforts into something positive.

  • jacked

    First off this is nothing new so you can get off of your “im the only who noticed this” high horse.

    Secondly i dont think anybody goes on these trips truly believing that they are making a change. It is just tourism indeed and there is nothing wrong with that. You get to see the country from an intimate perspective and witness how people live there. Of course youre not helping but at least youre more aware of how bad conditions can get on this planet. The only moral grey are is the company that is ffering these volunteering trips as they make big bucks on these students.

    So all your wording and swear combined with you arrogant tone really make for a highly mediocre article shedding no new light

  • James101

    I think the article has a lot of merit but it would have been good if you’d maybe pointed to some ways in which these middle class students you seem to execrate could make a difference over the summer. You say a little about donating money to a charity, but this in itself can be dubious pertaining to how effective middle class well wishers are actually being.
    For instance cancer research have frequently been rebuked for the amount they spend on their luscious buildings. In terms of giving your time for charity, what would you advise?

  • Anon

    Instead of volunteering for good causes they should devote their time to writing cynical articles for the The Tab!

  • Bullshit man

    Love, you went to Mill Hill… You are the “bumbling middle-class idiot” you so abhor.

  • Jerry

    It would actually be peoples’ lack of intelligence as opposed to people’s.

  • Jack

    No it wouldn’t. He’s not referring to groups of people but individuals. Peoples’ would imply whole countries/states/communities/tribes.