Contact! Unload


March 15, 2017 | A UBC Innovation Snapshot: Be inspired by and connect with innovators at UBC

Who are you?

As a theatre scholar/artist, Professor George Belliveau has emerged as a leader in providing interdisciplinary research teams with unique and interactive methodological approaches to disseminate knowledge to academic and community audiences. His research-based theatre model combines theatre with other disciplines (i.e., health, medicine, education, counselling) by bringing to life multiple forms of research data (i.e., interviews, field notes, focus groups, surveys) in performative ways. When theatricalizing data, Dr. Belliveau shows, rather than tells, the 
results of research, creating a vivid three-dimensional presentation of interdisciplinary scholarship. In a recent collaboration with Dr. Marvin Westwood, a counsellor, they worked with military veterans to explore ways of depicting the authentic stories of veterans dealing with psychological injuries from overseas combat using theatre.

What problem are you solving?

As an example of the high regard in which Dr. Belliveau’s knowledge mobilization efforts are held, the research-based play with military veterans that he developed and directed, Contact! Unload, was chosen to be performed for HMS Prince Harry, a strong advocate for effective mental health supports for veterans, on Remembrance Day 2015. This 30-minute piece looks at the social and psychological challenges that soldiers confront when they transition home post-deployment. Contact! Unload was co-created with a group of more than 30 participants, including counsellors, veterans, and artists who over the course of a year collectively worked towards addressing men’s mental health.

How does your idea contribute to society?

The play, uniquely performed by the veterans (non-actors), has reached over 1,500 people over eighteen performances, including a recent production for government ministers and leaders on Parliament Hill. Over fifteen male veterans have stepped forward for mental health support after seeing the play, and anecdotally a similar amount of civilians. More than likely, some of these veterans would not be here today, if they did not seek help.

Suicide among returning veterans is all too common. Twenty-two veterans take their life every single day in the US according to a recent study; Canada’s numbers are not as high, yet far too many succumb to this tragic end. Our UBC data from interviews with veterans and audience surveys clearly indicate how our initial project made a significant difference in the lives of veterans, their families and the public. The goal of this initiative is to reduce depression and suicide through the use of a theatre-based awareness modality.

What do you need now?

We wish to scale up this theatre initiative by building on the UBC model of Contact! Unload to mobilize what we learned across Canada. In collaboration with counselors and professional theatre artists in Edmonton, Toronto, Kingston, and Halifax, we wish to expand the reach of the project to veterans in those cities, so they can share their stories of combat stress. Each local group of veterans would create their own theatre script based on their stories, and then perform their play on military bases and for the public. The objective is to help the participating veterans extend their healing/recovery from operational stress injuries incurred in the line of duty, and equally important, to raise public awareness about the issues soldiers bring back when they return. This model of men helping men resonates beyond the military, and applies to other populations. At its core the work is about establishing connection, group cohesion, building empathy, reducing stigma and preventing suicide.

Find out more information