Contact! Unload tells soldiers’ stories on stage

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Article / December 8, 2016

By: 2Lt. Phillip Lopresti

The Men’s Health Research Program at the University of British Columbia launched its third rendition of the highly-acclaimed play Contact! Unload in the fall. The theatre piece featuring Canadian Armed Forces veterans and their stories have been performed to sold out audiences in Vancouver, Ottawa, and before Prince Harry of Wales at Canada House in London, England.  

Over 50 people are part of the creative and organizational team and to date over 1,500 audience members have seen the production. In Ottawa, the play was performed 5 times, including a showing on Parliament Hill before the Minister of National Defence, Honourable Harjit Sajjan, who met with the performers to discuss their experience participating in the play and Veteran Transition Program.    

Contact! Unload emerges from the work that Dr. Marvin Westwood, a counselling psychologist at the University of British Columbia (UBC), developed with the Veterans Transition Program (VTP) over the last two decades.

There have been several individuals in the audience that knew they needed help, but only came forward after seeing the show,”  said Dr. Marvin Westwood.

Now delivered by the charitable Veterans Transition Network (VTN), over 700 veterans have participated in the VTP, resulting in zero participant suicides and significant reductions in suicidal ideation, depression and trauma symptoms sustained even 18 months after finishing the program. The VTP approach, along with the compelling stories of five veterans, became the core content to build the play Contact! Unload.

39 Canadian Brigade Group played a critical role in this production as four of the five participants were from within the Brigade.  The beauty of theatre is that it allows a shift from past to present almost simultaneously. Space and time on stage are shared with historical warriors like Henry V and relocate to Agincourt, and at the same time engage with contemporary military soldiers. The stage affords the conditions to humanize individuals, as audiences see, witness, weep, and laugh in a shared space, in communion with others.

The performance is also part of The Men’s Depression and Suicide Network, which consists of six different projects, funded by the Movember Foundation, that are aimed at reducing and de-stigmatizing men’s depression and suicide. The broader project is led by University of British Columbia professors Dr. John Oliffe and Dr. John Ogrodniczuk.

Both the producers of the play and the participants themselves said they were fortunate to have been supported by network and agree that the broader mission of the play was to bring awareness to the specific issues faced by men when dealing with mental health. To learn more, please visit: menshealthresearch.ubc.ca

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