Ex-trapeze artist Mish Weaver’s life­time strug­gle with bipo­lar dis­or­der forms the ba­sis of a new tour­ing cir­cus show. Cather­ine Scott meets her.

Yorkshire Post - - NEWS -

IT’S cir­cus, but not as we know it.

Mish Weaver’s Box of Frogs pro­duc­tion uses off-the-wall cir­cus trick­ery, di­verse, zany char­ac­ters and mul­ti­me­dia dis­plays to con­vey the chaos, mis­ery, fury, hu­mour, cre­ative highs and dis­abling de­pres­sion that she has ex­pe­ri­enced.

Fea­tur­ing five ac­ro­bats and two mu­si­cians from Mish’s York­shire­based Stum­ble Dance Cir­cus, Box of Frogs has been com­mis­sioned by the Un­lim­ited pro­gramme, part of Lon­don 2012 Fes­ti­val and Cul­tural Olympiad.

For Mish, the thrills, skills, mu­sic and colour of cir­cus makes it “the per­fect medium to ex­press the huge ex­tremes of bipo­lar dis­or­der.”

“I worked in cir­cus for 25 years, and Box of Frogs is my way of ex­plain­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence through move­ment, colour, form, mu­sic, peo­ple and words.

“My pas­sion is cir­cus and my ex­pe­ri­ence is bipo­lar dis­or­der. Box of Frogs brings the two to­gether.

“A lot of it is from my ex­pe­ri­ence but a lot is from what I have learnt about bipo­lar dis­or­der from Cog­ni­tive Be­havioural Ther­apy and read­ing, as well as the process of writ­ing. Box of Frogs rep­re­sents my un­der­stand­ing of the dis­or­der.”

“Vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing in the show is about be­hav­iour and how you might be­have when driven by cer­tain moods. And Box of Frogs is about en­cour­ag­ing au­di­ences to im­merse them­selves in some­one else’s moods and be­hav­iours.”

The show’s char­ac­ters rep­re­sent the ex­treme men­tal states as­so­ci­ated with bipo­lar dis­or­der – a clown man­i­cally talks about his ob­ses­sion with buy­ing cir­cus toys on­line, a Ring­mas­ter hides away in the shad­ows but comes to life un­der the lights of the big top, a jug­gler is caught in an end­less cy­cle, and a tal­ented ac­ro­bat is plagued by the con­vic­tion that she is use­less.

The per­for­mance – whose style has be­come known as Bipo­lar Cir­cus – por­trays both the un­pleas­ant and hu­mor­ous di­men­sions to bipo­lar dis­or­der. Mish says: “I don’t think manic de­pres­sives like them­selves. I didn’t. It is like be­ing stuck with some­one who you hate and you cringe when they talk. I wanted the au­di­ence to feel that – to be ir­ri­tated and to dis­like the be­hav­iour.

“But there is also plenty of com­edy. Box of Frogs is also funny.”

Mish, 46, from Heb­den Bridge has ex­pe­ri­enced un­sta­ble moods

I was ad­dicted to the dan­ger of it. I sup­pose I didn’t re­ally care what hap­pened to me.

ever since she was a “hec­tic” seven-year-old.

It was in her early 20s that she dis­cov­ered “Cloudswing” aerial per­for­mance.

“I was at univer­sity in New­cas­tle study­ing Fine Art Sculp­ture. A group of friends were learn­ing cir­cus skills and so one day a group of us hung up a trapeze in a church hall above a box­ing ring with mat­tresses on the floor to break our fall. I never, ever thought that I would make a ca­reer out of it.”

She went on to teach cir­cus the­atre in pris­ons, run a dance the­atre com­pany, and be­come “Head of Aerial” at Lon­don’s Cir­cus Space, the UK’s lead­ing cir­cus school.

Dur­ing this time Mish says “I did not man­age my­self well at all” and was un­able to have any con­trol over her bouts of ex­treme highs and lows.

“No-one can deny the link be­tween ex­er­cise and bet­ter men­tal health. The prob­lem is ac­tu­ally get­ting out and do­ing ex­er­cise when you have de­pres­sion.”

And the choice of such a dan­ger­ous pro­fes­sion may not have helped her con­di­tion, ad­mits Mish.

“I was ad­dicted to the dan­ger of it and the re­la­tion­ship with the au­di­ence who know that you could fall and die, as I nor­mally per­formed with­out a lunge. I sup­pose I didn’t re­ally care what hap­pened to me. Also push­ing your­self to such lim­its isn’t al­ways good men­tally or phys­i­cally. It was com­pletely kamikaze I sup­pose.”

But it was Mish’s fear of the au­di­ence which even­tu­ally caused her to quit per­form­ing and con­cen­trate on de­sign­ing, di­rect­ing and teach­ing..

“I wasn’t afraid of fall­ing or any­thing like that, I was just ter­ri­fied of per­form­ing and ev­ery­one watch­ing me. Ev­ery night I would prom­ise my­self it would be the last time. In the end it just got too ter­ri­fy­ing.”

It was in 2003 that Mish was for­mally di­ag­nosed with bipo­lar dis­or­der, and she had a break­down while liv­ing alone in Lon­don, work­ing long hours.

“I was liv­ing off cof­fee and fruit juice and beer. I just came to a com­plete and ut­ter halt. I could no longer func­tion,” she says.

She be­came se­ri­ously ill in hospi­tal and later ad­mit­ted her­self into a psy­chi­atric unit.

“I don’t think I have ever met any­one who hated them­selves as much as I used to hate my­self,” she re­flects “I used to hate hav­ing to be in my own com­pany.”

She “ran away” back to the north to be near her mother who was liv­ing in York­shire..

“Hav­ing a di­ag­no­sis of bipo­lar dis­or­der is help­ful in the longterm but at the time it al­most added more pres­sure. There were all these celebri­ties ad­mit­ting they had it and then ev­ery­one ex­pects you to be bril­liant be­cause you have it.”

But it was the birth of her child in the same year as her di­ag­no­sis, to­gether with help from a “bril­liant” cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­a­pist, that en­abled Mish to find ways to man­age her con­di­tion.

“It’s a cliché, but hav­ing a child was the best thing that ever hap­pened to me.

“Be­ing re­spon­si­ble for some­one else made me ad­dress my own care.

“I fi­nally man­aged to or­gan­ise my­self enough to be able to con­trol a lot of my be­hav­iour. It is very hard and I am ex­hausted a lot of the time. In some ways I would de­scribe my­self as a sur­vivor.”

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