As part of our 110th Anniversary Celebrations, we had a very special guest, Calgary author and playwright Clem Martini. He focused on sharing his special insights into how writing becomes therapeutic… for the writer and the audience.
Clem Martini has been awarded three Alberta Writers Guild Prizes and has won the National Playwriting Competition. In 2008, he was appointed head of the drama department at the University of Calgary, and teaches playwriting, screen writing, and theatre for young adults. He writes fiction, non-fiction and plays.
Mr. Martini’s presentation focused on the therapeutic aspects of writing. He read excerpts and discussed his works from two of his books: Too Late – a novelette written while working with Wood’s Homes, a residential treatment centre for troubled youth, where he taught drama and playwriting, and One Hundred Stories for One Hundred Years – an anthology that also reflected his time spent working at Woods Homes. During his 15 years there, Martini met and worked with marginalized young people who were often at odds with their families and frequently felt trapped in criminal lifestyles. The imprint of these troubled youth appears in Martini’s writings, which frequently features conflicted characters seeking release and struggling to discover their true selves.
In 1987, while at Wood’s Homes, he was asked to create a summer stock theatre in association with the Canadian Mental Health community. His mandate was to create plays that the Wood’s Homes kids could write, produce and perform. He explained how very successful this summer stock was for the youth who not only had come from dysfunctional backgrounds, but who were experts at failing in every aspect of their lives. We were delighted to hear stories about how these troubled youth were able to use this theatre experience to reconnect with their families and feel good about themselves through their writing, producing and performing “their” play.
In 1977, Mr. Martini’s youngest brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and then committed suicide. 10 years later, his older brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In 1987, the director of the National Film Board of Canada asked him to talk about schizophrenia publicly in a film. His whole family would have to participate and he would have to write the narration. All of his family agreed to talk except his dad because mental illness was considered so shameful. His mother was apprehensive because of the guilt inflicted on the mothers of those suffering with mental illness. The film, “Shattered Dreams,” was a good experience both for his immediate family and for those around the world who were impacted by the honesty and open dialogue of their family’s story.
Mr. Martini read an excerpt from “Upside Down“ – a guide to dealing with mental illness for junior high youth.
Writing has the capacity to understand and can heal hurts. His book, Bitter Medicine chronicles his family’s 30-year struggle with schizophrenia, and is illustrated by his brother, Olivier, who suffers from schizophrenia. Bitter Medicine was part of the Common reading program – every first year student coming into U of C in 2012 was required to read it. The students then had the opportunity to participate in online and group discussions, enter contests and participate in various programs over the rest of the summer and during Fall Orientation. At the launch of Bitter Medicine for this Common Reading Program, with 300 people in attendance, Olivier was super nervous, but when they applauded, he was delighted. After they got a standing ovation, Olivier said, “This is great; this is the best experience of my life.”
Martini explained that he has learned much about mental illness over the years – some intentional and some unintentional. But the biggest thing he has learned is that mental illness changes the family dynamics. He has learned that schizophrenia is a like a wrecking ball that hits everything – and it keeps swinging.