'Over The Tops': A Tops of the Town Musical Theatre Workshop...

It's almost a year since we had our John Player Tops of the Town reunion. It was a wonderful evening, presenting a fantastic opportunity for us all to meet people we hadn't seen in at least twenty years. We left in the early morning hours, with the parting comment being that maybe we would do 'one more [show] for the road'

Yes, admittedly the subject of another show was discussed on the night! Although the reality of the morning after did hit we didn't entirely forget what was said. A seasoned few fellow performers got together and had some subsequent and very secret meetings! Our ultimate decision was that we should bravely dip our sequined twinkle-toed feet into the water and have a reunion Workshop. Let's see how many other post-40 (and in particular post-50) ex-dancers are as mad as we are and are prepared to dust off their dance shoes and take to the stage once more!

So, without further ado I give you our 'Over The Tops' Musical Theatre Workshop. It's bound to combine the heady mixture of hard work, sweaty bodies, no lycra (please God no Lycra!) with some giggles and a whole lot of fun! We have a Dream Team of a Production team with:  Joan Kenny, dancer/choreographer/director of huge experience, as our Choreographer, Andy O'Callaghan, a well known musical director who is also currently composer for Mrs Brown's Boys and Mrs Brown D'Movie, as our MD and Tony Finnegan, an award winning actor and director, as our Director.

So, if you're over 40 and were involved in any way with Tops of the Town, or musicals, and fancy joining us in the Dance House, Foley Street on Sunday October 5th then all you have to do is book your place here. Then dig your dance shoes out of wherever they've been hidden and just turn up!

If you don't live in Dublin or the date doesn't suit you and you are interested then just email us at info@overthetops.com as we are planning more workshops NATIONWIDE!

You just never know what may come out of this workshop..........

Mental Health Awareness.....

This is Mental Health Awareness Week. A week to lift up the carpet, releasing the veil of secrecy and perceived shame surrounding this illness, and to raise awareness. I guess it's all about getting it out into the open and removing the stigma attached to this 'invisible illness', as it's being tagged on twitter.

I'm all for it being openly discussed, so that no-one need feel ashamed when this illness hits them or if they have a friend or family member who has a mental health disorder. So that no-one feels hostile to mental illness That it's  a subject so openly discussed that they feel they can turn to family or friends requesting help and support, and then receive the necessary health care if required.

And that's where it can start to breakdown.

 It is wonderful when your loved one, or friend, feels that they can open up to you and admit how they are feeling. You can offer support; a listening ear, a comforting shoulder and even a cup of tea. That may appease things awhile, keeping the 'demons' at bay, but sometimes such support is but a band-aid that needs ever more regular changing. And there's only so much cups of tea one can drink, and only so much helplines can help.

While it's important that someone suffering with depression can turn to their family, it's important to point out that family are not always best equipped to deal with this illness, one that has many presentations particular to each sufferer. Families familiar with their loved ones illness eventually know when it's time to send for professional psychiatric help.

But that help can be very difficult to attain.

In my parent's generation things like this were never discussed, just a quick knowing nod accompanied by the familiar side-of-the-mouth, barely whispered - 'suffers with her nerves, you know' over the garden fence. I learned from them, at a very young age, to never tell anyone. No-one must ever know. You keep it to yourself at all costs. If I don't say anything then maybe it's not true? It will be fixed and our much loved family member would be returned to us as if nothing ever happened? Of course things didn't work out like that, things just ran their course as they always did and would continue to do in the future to come.

You see Mental Illness doesn't just affect the sufferer, it effects the whole family unit too. It can escalate into a very difficult situation very quickly, and help can be very difficult to attain. It is heartbreaking to see your loved one disintegrate before your eyes. I have no idea how horrendous these episodes are for the sufferer but to watch, knowing that all you can do is monitor and keep them safe until help arrives, is emotionally devastating. And help can take a long time to arrive. Especially if a breakdown peaks on a weekend. And in my experience they always peak on weekends. While it's the person in distress who's suffering the most, you bear this unbelievably distressing and stressful situation as best you can. Until Monday arrives and the doctor can be contacted, to once more set the complicated and slow turning wheels of assistance in motion.

I said it before and I'll say it again: I'd prefer to have Broken Bones than a broken mind, any day.

So, in order to raise Mental Health Awareness in this the year of 2014 what changes would I like to see happen, that would a difference to those who suffer with mental illness and their families?

That all psychiatric hospitals follow the St Ita example and are co-located with an acute one.

That all psychiatric nurses are allowed to use their basic general nursing skills. That would allow them to administer a drip (among other things) to a psychiatric patient who is, say,  dehydrated as a result of them not eating and drinking for days. This would in turn avoid the complicated efforts of transferring a patient from a psychiatric hospital to an acute one. And back again, which is where the real difficulties begin.

That they remove the idiotic rule that a patient cannot be transferred directly from an acute hospital to a psychiatric one. 

Of course if they implement the first one above they then perhaps alleviate the next two?

That they review the protocols around transporting a psychiatric patient to hospital. I know it's important to acknowledge staff safety in these sometimes seriously dangerous situations but is a police escort always necessary? Even if a patient is confirmed to be in a catatonic state? Can they not 'rate' the patient with regards to any possible violence, as assessed by their GP or community nurse?

That they can also examine how necessary it really is that someone else must accompany them on the journey. This sometimes necessitates a nurse/carer from a nursing home or a community nurse (if no family member available) being expected to leave their duties to accompany a patient to a psychiatric hospital that is usually remotely located miles away, with no means of transport to get back!

That they review protocols for ambulance personnel refusing to take a psychiatric patient who is distressed but not violent, and clearly needs help but says they don't want to go. It can't be right that they walk away from such a scenario.......

That proper supports are available in the community upon their release to support both the patient and their family. There are good supports available but an emergency helpline would be helpful.

That these supports be available at weekends also. There's doctor-on-call services for people with medical emergencies, why not something on a smaller scale for mental health emergencies? I know that a local psychiatric hospital does have a kind of doctor-on-call service, only for patients that attend their clinic, and they promise that you will be seen within a certain number of hours (24 or more). I have yet to see that happen.

That patients with mental health illnesses have more options apart from a weekly clinic. You and I can go to a GP any day of the week but a psychiatric patient usually has to wait a week to get seen!

That all professionals don't get so bogged down with the patient's rights that they let that over rule the patients need for treatment.

I don't think it's too much ask for really, is it?

*Please note, if you suffer from mental illness you can seek help from  Aware or Pieta House  if you feel the need to talk to someone. They are there to help.

Gotta Dance......

'I want to dance like her Mammy', said the awestruck three year old little me, many moons ago. Standing there right in front of the black and white TV screen, with both hands touching the beautiful ballerina as she danced pirouettes and grand jetés all across the stage. And arabesques too...

                                                photo credit: danceviewtimes.com

I had to wait a few years before my wish was granted. And a few months more to get the leotard, tights and beautiful pink ballet shoes that were my most prized possessions, ever. How could my parents have ever doubted whether or not I'd 'stick to it'?

I didn't just 'stick to it' as regards Ballet, but as I grew older I embraced all forms of musical theatre style dancing, and dancing became more and more a huge part of my life. I adored it and worked very, very hard to become the best dancer I could be..... dancing pirouettes and grand jetés of my own all across the stage.

Fast forward a year or twenty to the young adult who went away with her non-dancing friends and whom, after some silly 'shenanigans', came home with torn ankle ligaments. I did a right job of it too, ending up in hospital for a week. I eventually came home with crutches, a cast on my leg and some daily Physio exercises to do. I do recall that the first question I asked my doctor after my operation wasn't 'will I walk again?' oh no, it was the far more important 'will I dance again'? He assured me that yes, I would.

So, off I went doing my set exercises three times daily, plus any other dance-like stretches I could manage. My aim was to strengthen the rest of my body so that it could best support my weakened leg when the cast came off. Before long I was back dancing in my magical world of  the stage, finding that, thanks to my strict exercise regime, I could now do the splits! A move I had long since yearned to do, and now I could. I was back stronger than ever it seemed.

Myself and my friends went from show to show and musical society to musical society, with oodles of dance classes in between, dancing our way up the twinkle toed ladder. There are lots of magical moments that stand out from that era and our Tops of the Town days are right up there as the most special. Adding the spice of competition to the magical elements of dancing on stage and you've got one helluva show.....and some fantastic memories too.

But the years roll on and the dancer grows up. I'm now a 50 something stay-at-home-mum to a teenager, living in suburbia, who along the way found an interest in doing some choreography. Being a Desperate Housewife is clearly not interesting enough for me it seems. It's not a huge amount of choreography, just some local school shows. But I do adore it. I adore passing on the stage experience I've gained to this generation and seeing the starlight gleam in their eyes as they perform on stage. I like to believe that in doing what I do, I am doing my bit to help keep the spirit of musical theatre and musical societies alive for another talented generation.

Fast forward thirty years or so and this 50 something, dancing mum, finds herself hit by another debilitating injury and is laid up for goodness knows how long. A back injury this time, hugely impacting on my left leg, sustained by attending a Pilates class of all things and this time I was hospitalised for three weeks. Once more the first question I asked my Doctors and Physiotherapist was 'will I dance again'? However this time the answers ranged from a 'maybe' ,to a shrug accompanied by a 'we'll see' ,to an implied 'never' - there's a huge twinkle toed grand jeté of a difference between a 'maybe' and a 'never' you know.

 It may be thirty years later but yet again here I am with one crutch, frenetically doing my Physio exercises three times daily, plus some short walks. However this time dance-like stretches cannot be done and I doubt I'll be performing the splits any time soon!

There will be no long walks, exercise classes or dancing opportunities for me either, for quite some time to come.

This really saddens me, especially since a project myself and some of my dancing friends have been secretly working on since last year is soon to come to fruition. And it's looking like I will not be partaking.

So, is this it for me? Nature's way of reminding me of my age, dragging me firmly into my fifties with me throwing a strop because I clearly don't want to?

I don't think so, despite what they say. I know I'll have to be careful, it is a back injury after all. But there has to be a way and I aim to find it.

Dancing is in my DNA and besides, I'm not quite ready to hang up my dancing shoes just yet......