Ever felt like letting it all out? Amanda Grace of Astute & Kind. is offering a once in a lifetime opportunity to get a hole drilled in your head. Exploring the archaic practice of trephination as a cure-all for madness, Amanda’s piece Trephination for the Twenty-First Century looks to reclaim ‘mad spaces’. We took a chance to sit down with Amanda and get under the skin ahead of the show’s arrival in London.
You can catch Trephination for the Twenty-First Century at the Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret in London on January 11th at 18:00. The show will also take to the Thackray Museum of Medicine in Leeds on January 18th at 18:00. Tickets are available online.
Jake: Hey Amanda! We last heard from you when we came to experience the Love In at VAULT Festival last year. Tell us a little about what you’ve been up to since then.
Amanda: It’s so lovely to reconnect with the Binge Fringe team. Life has been full of wonderful adventures since we last met. I’ve been slowly curating some new performances of care for larger audiences around questions I’ve been grappling with: Is it possible I was visibly queer to everyone except myself? What does it take to truly ‘settle’ after migration?
2023 was truly a year of settling for me. Where possible, these pieces were tended in collaboration with creatives and companies who inspire me; I’ve been indescribably lucky to finally have worked with massive mutual crushes Dogmouth Theatre, Sammy Trotman & Covered in Jam, the Horse Hospital, and Bethany McHugh. My care performance practice has grown alongside my performance practice; I’ve joined Wellbeing in the Arts as a coach & wellbeing facilitator, offered Access, Care & Inclusion support as a committee member for Equity London South Branch, designed workshops for Spotlight, and served as a Disability Network Representative at the National Theatre—all while teaching & consulting privately!
Gently and intentionally expanding my own personal practice in this holistic way has given me the space and time to dream up next pages for some of my oldest and dearest pieces, like Love In—which I’m so excited to say is popping up on the Valentine Tour around London, including at our beloved Glitch, this February—and Trephination for the Twenty-First Century, which I’m very grateful to be touring across the UK to reclaim former operating theatres for mad people like me.
Jake: Your newly touring show Trephination for the Twenty-First Century, is a one-woman exploration of madness. Tell us what spurred you to create the piece and what you’re hoping people will take away from it.
Amanda: When it was time to begin the capstone of my MFA at Rose Bruford College, I decided the greatest use of my training—and student loans—would be to do the scariest thing I could possibly think of. Getting onstage by myself for a full-length show to be both funny and heart-rendering was, at the time, the most fear-inducing idea, so there was really no other option. I decided to set two additional challenges within the process: one was that I had to cultivate a writing process that I didn’t hate, and the other was that, after over a decade of performing (and a decade of being officially mad), I had to make a show that was entirely what I wanted it to be—fully mad, no apologies.
Trephination really transformed my creative process, and I found that by being as true and caring to myself as possible, I was able to create a thing that other people found true and caring. After the premiere in 2023, I was approached by nearly the entire audience, one by one, who each connected with what I was taught in my psychology undergraduate degree were very non-universal experiences. The first Trephination seemed to work not only on me, but on everyone in the operating theatre—and I realised there was a whole world outside that could benefit from the chance to excise the things causing pressure in their minds, beyond the limitations of diagnostic labels.
One thing I realised after writing the script for Trephination was that this was the show I wish my mental health service providers had seen before attempting to “treat” me—so, beyond people feeling capable of sharing their experiences freely and seeing some of themselves in what I bring to the stage, I really hope anyone seeing this begins to challenge the suspicion with which we as a society are conditioned to view mad, neurodivergent, and mentally ill voices. I am the expert in my own madness, and I hope people leave feeling more confident to share their experiences and more willing to bear witness to others’.
Jake: The piece is a combination of psychological theory and theatrical practice – give us an idea of what the audience can expect to experience going in.
Amanda: The great joy of the Trephination Tour is getting to reclaim former spaces of hierarchical, authoritarian “treatment” of madness for mad people themselves, and so much of the show is constructed by the operating theatre itself. We all get to be part of flipping the power dynamics of these teaching theatres, where the experts were teaching each other over the body of the mad person, so that the mad person gets to be the expert, charged with sharing their lived expertise with the audience. I have heard from audience members that the experience is incredibly soft and fun, but entering that space for the first time can be confronting, and we do discuss confronting things, so I always let audience members know that they can leave and re-enter at any time.
There’s a whole school of thought that says these conversations are too unpalatable to be had—it’s the reason so many former operating theatres & asylums have been paved over & washed clean—but I’m a big believer that if we lean into the topics that society labels as “macabre” or “taboo” with empathy and the desire to understand, we can be better available for the messy complexities of life when they arrive at our door. To that point, audiences can expect a great deal of candour, flickering between objective knowledge & subjective experience.
Jake: The show is out on tour at the moment and due to arrive in London in just a few days time – tell us a little about the venues, and how the show has been received so far.
Amanda: This show was written to only be performed as a reclamation of mad spaces, and so venues were naturally limited as so many of these spaces have been intentionally removed from our landscape. Booking venues felt a bit like wandering a graveyard, and came with its own grief. Of the relevant locations still standing, almost all are kept up by museum bodies or ongoing medical organisations—so those that have agreed to welcome the show have gifted me with a great deal of trust and faith in the mission of Trephination, and working with these medicalised spaces as a theatre practitioner has been a dream within my continuous dance between drama & psychology. It’s given me a lot of faith that the tides of contemporary medicine are beginning to accept the testimonies of mentally ill, mad, and neurodivergent people as the subject matter expertise that it is.
The tour began in Peterborough at the Victorian Operating Theatre (est. 1897) housed within Peterborough Museum & Art Gallery; their operating theatre is stunningly white-tiled (to reflect the natural light by which operations were performed) and small, so the energetic environment of that performance was especially intense. I’ve never toured the UK prior to now, so I had no idea how Trephination would be received, but the audience in Peterborough were so open and welcoming and enthusiastic—really the audience every solo performer dreams of. I always say that performances of care require vulnerability from the performer and the audience, and Trephination audiences universally take on this challenge with passion and grace.
The Old Operating Theatre in Southwark, where I hope many readers will join me this Thursday, was established in 1822, and has been wonderfully maintained ever since. I don’t know whether it’s the warm wood furnishing the theatre, or the incredibly support I’ve received from Monica Walker and the Old Op team since the day I first pitched the show, but this space always feels like home to me—which may seem strange for new visitors!
Leeds’ Victorian operating theatre, of which Thackray Museum serves as guardian, is a replica built on the site of Leeds Union Workhouse on the campus of St. James’ Hospital (est. 1848). Thackray is committed to engaging with people’s curiosities about the history of medicine—even when that history isn’t the prettiest—and being able to join in that experience as a guest and an expert is an honour. I’ve also never been to Leeds—so very excited to visit.
Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if your show was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why
Amanda: Trephination for the Twenty-First Century is definitely a hot toddy. It’s direct, uncompromising, and bitter to swallow, but it’s these facets that make it soothing and all the sweeter. You’ll leave warmer… and, hopefully, lighter-headed!