Playwright Louise Casemore initiates a discussion on anxiety and mental illness with her one-woman production OCD

Louise Casemore is busy.

Into her second season as artistic associate with Ghost River Theatre, she splits her time between collaborating and performing with the local theatre company and creating and writing her own productions. These two worlds meet with Ghost River presenting OCD, which was created and written by Casemore and mounted by her own Defiance Theatre back in 2015, and has been running ever since.

For Casemore, writing OCD was an expression of her own personal experiences with the disorder, and, through her research into it, a need to somewhat advocate for the illness, to make people think about anxiety as not just a minor affliction.

“It’s more than just wanting to have a little bit of order in your life,” explains Casemore. “(Anxiety) has kind of become a word to describe anyone with any degree of hygiene or cleanliness or organization. Part of what I hoped to accomplish in a light-handed sort of way with the show is being able to create a little bit of distinction between the illness as an actual illness which is a diagnosable thing that can be seen in a scan … and differentiating that between anxiety as a general practice or principle and this strange almost pop culture usurping of the term.”

This one-woman show is constantly being tweaked by Casemore, reflecting what is happening in society and, as she says, having the show “respond in very real time to the culture of mental illness,” but also keeping it malleable and fluid, which is not typical of a theatrical performance.

“It lives in the land of storytelling,” she says. “It does have a script like a conventional play, but because of the way I like to work there certainly is a degree of flexibility in terms of it. I, as a performer certainly, and definitely as a writer, like to allow the reality of what’s happening in the room impact the show.”

Part of the process of bringing people into the world of anxiety and mental disorders is also guiding them through in a manageable way, which Casemore is adamant about, encouraging discussion after the performance.

“A talkback component is something that I am actually quite firm on, that when I produce the show it needs to involve, if not a talkback after every performance, then at least one talkback per run, just to give people an opportunity to unpack a little bit,” she says.

“I think that with a show that is pertaining specifically to an anxiety disorder, I feel quite strongly that there is a bit of a responsibility that, if you’re going to take people to that place, to make yourself accessible and available to give them an opportunity to sort through it.”

Casemore adds that, after most performances, she will find audience members hanging back, waiting in the lobby and wanting to engage in some way. She is more than happy to oblige, believing that just being available to people afterwards can sometimes offer up an opportunity for good discussion. In an effort to provide further outreach, Casemore partners up with various organizations during each run of the show in order to provide resources to audience members that goes above and beyond simply referring them to a help line. In Winnipeg, for example, Casemore partnered up with the founder of the OCD Society of Canada.

“We had a great conversation with the audience afterwards and hearing her talk about the evolution and the advancements and the trajectory of treatment for the past 30 years was absolutely mind blowing and very humbling in a lot of ways to be like you know what it feels like a tough spot that we are now, but we have made tremendous steps forward.”

And while a valuable resource to people who suffer from anxiety, it is also beneficial and enlightening to those who may not be fully aware that they, too, are afflicted in some sense, and for those people Casemore advises “taking a moment and just checking in — affording yourself the luxury to say, ‘What is my relationship with anxiety and am I managing it in an OK way, and if not there’s a bunch of things that I can do.’ ”

The performance, itself, promises to be engaging, enlightening and even funny, since Casemore believes that it’s easier to tackle harder subjects by not setting the audience up for a difficult time.

“(The show) does live in the land of engaging the audience, but no audience member gets pulled up out of the crowd and is made to do a science experiment or anything like that. It is a far more traditional experience, people come in, grab a beverage, grab a seat and just live inside that environment for an hour. We’ll hang out — it’s not about setting an audience up to fail, it’s about inviting them to play and if they want to play, I’ll play as long as they want.”

OCD is presented by Ghost River Theatre and makes its Calgary debut at the West Village Theatre Feb. 1-10. Tickets and info available here.

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at