For Amy Jansen, exploring loneliness through performance has been a “hugely cathartic process”.
The opera singer is performing at the Waitaki Boys’ High School Hall of Memories on Wednesday, as part of her tour of the South Island with her show Your Me, an operatic musical that takes a look at the many facets of loneliness.
The tour is a fundraiser for the able.minds Charitable Trust, which is chaired by Jansen’s mother, Helen, who lives in Oamaru.
Jansen (33), who has recently returned to New Zealand from the UK where she spent the past seven months living alone in isolation, had been talking to her mother about how lonely she felt during lockdown – and the universally-shared experience of loneliness.
“As many of us have discovered, unexpected isolation removes the distractions of daily life and we have very little choice but to look at ourselves and our mental health,” she said.
“Loneliness was an overwhelming experience for so many during the lockdowns. However, it is not an experience singular to those who are on their own.
“Loneliness comes from feeling that there is not the depth of connection that a person desires which means one can feel as lonely in a large group of friends as when alone and be equally lonely in a relationship as when one is single.”
Able.minds’ mission is to support families and whanau affected by mental illness, addiction and suicide. Jansen and her mother thought Your Me could be an interesting way to raise awareness of the charitable trust, and start a conversation about loneliness.
Jansen was born in England and also lived in Africa, before her family moved to New Zealand.
She started classical singing lessons with Dame Malvina Major when she was 16, and studied music at university.
Her Your Me journey started when she was creating a performance for her master’s degree.
Earlier that year, she had suffered a broken heart.
“And all of the songs that I kept coming up with were all of these sort of broken-hearted, woe-is-me things.”
For her thesis, she wanted to look at why she was feeling certain ways, and whether the writing and rehearsing of a piece of theatre could work as a form of self-therapy.
“By the time I wrote the thesis, and I did the research and had written this show, and spent weeks rehearsing and thinking about the lines, and making sure that the words that I was using in the dialogue sections were pertinent and clear … I realised that actually I have experienced loneliness for the majority of my life.
“It was a wonderful thing for me because it sort of made sense of why I was feeling the way I had been feeling for such a long time.”
Through the process, she was able to assess her reactions, examine why she felt certain ways and appreciate the relationships she had.
“From a very personal point of view, it was a hugely cathartic process.”
Loneliness could affect people at any age, in any situation, and for any reason.
“I realised I wanted to create a performance that would engage in this topic, or with this topic, and start a conversation with those who were in the audience about their own loneliness, or those around them, that may have felt lonely.
“I think it’s a universal experience, whether people have felt lonely for long periods of time or whether it is short intense moments of loneliness.”
Your Me is a one-act operatic musical and features operatic, folk, musical theatre and English art songs.
Although the topic of loneliness was quite heavy-hitting, the show was light-hearted, Jansen said.
She has already performed in Christchurch and Dunedin, and has a show in Invercargill tonight.
Jansen, who works part-time in marketing and PR and in project and event management in the UK, said it was wonderful to be performing in New Zealand again.
She will return to the UK next month.
Able.minds chief executive Sarah Dowie said the partnership with Jansen, and the delivery of Your Me, could provide communities with not only an opportunity to hear and enjoy the excellent performance, but to learn about and identify loneliness in themselves and others.
“Loneliness is an aspect of mental health that many experience yet can go unvoiced,” Dowie said.
“It is our hope that this will encourage them to reach out for help should they need it, and most importantly, for hope.”
Your Me is on at the Waitaki Boys’ Hall of Memories on June 23 at 7pm .
Tickets are $15 and available online at events.humanitix.com/your-me-oamaru, or at the door (cash only).