Stories > Blogs > Seventy-Eight Thank Yous by James Pretlove – An Artist’s Story

Seventy-Eight Thank Yous by James Pretlove – An Artist’s Story

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, one of the greatest celebrations of arts and culture on the planet, takes place each August. With over 3,000 shows taking place across the city, there’s a great buzz and lots of excitement.  We’ve reached out to artists who have or will perform in the Fringe to ask if they will share their stories. Our hope is that we can learn from each other and inspire one another to take positive steps to look after our mental health and wellbeing.

Hear from James Pretlove, about his show, the impact of sharing his story and how he looks after his mental health and wellbeing.

James’ show ‘Seventy-Eight Thank Yous’ is running from 16 – 20 August 2023 at Arthur Conan Doyle Centre.

Thank you for joining us, James. Can you tell us about your show and what impact sharing your story has on your mental health.

So, my piece is called Seventy-Eight Thank Yous and it’s the story of the death and life of my mum, who took her life by suicide in 2018. That had quite a big impact on my mental health. I felt that all the things I guess most people would feel. I felt distraught. I felt guilty. I felt angry sometimes. I missed mum. I couldn’t understand why she’d done it.

One of the first things that happened was that I started thinking of things to thank mum for. And that’s how I got to 78 of the thank yous, eventually one for every year of her life. That process was an incredible process of just remembering mostly the good things. Not all the thank yous were about good things. Some of them were about so-called bad things or tricky things, but most of them were taking me back to very happy memories of me and my mum.

I turned them into a memoir and I was having trouble getting this published. I decided I would take it out as a performance piece, and that terrified me because I’ve not done anything like that before in my life, but I was given really strong advice that this would be a way to get things moving with the publishing of my story and my mum’s story as a book.

Since I started performing it first, I started reading it to people and then I developed it into a performance piece. That’s when everything has just really opened up for me in my life again. It’s been an incredible experience taking it out. I’ve done it all over the country and I’m now bringing it to Edinburgh Fringe.

The fringe can be quite intense. It can be quite demanding when you’re sharing something that’s very personal to you. If things get difficult, what sort of coping mechanisms do you have to prioritise your well-being while you’re performing?

I know that for me and my good mental health, I need regular contact with nature. So, I will almost certainly, every day, make my way to the beach or wander along one of the many paths in Edinburgh, the old railway lines that are now cycle tracks and walking tracks, and I love those. I love the graveyard, which seems maybe a bit strange, but I love a graveyard. And so I know that by connecting with nature, that’s one of the things I know keeps me more balanced and if I’m a bit off kilter, that puts me back on track again.

I’ve got a friend for every performance who’s supporting me. So, I’ve got somebody there who I can effectively debrief with afterwards or have a chat about stuff with. I have somebody coming in every day from survivors of bereavement by suicide, which is another charity, working with suicide, and so I’ve got their support. I’ve had offers of help from other friends and people I don’t know very well, who’ve been touched by what it is I’m doing. So, I will call in, if I need it, the help of friends and people who I can talk with,

I also know that I need to get good rest. I have no idea what else I’m going to see while I’m up there. It may be that I don’t see anything else, and that might be one way of dealing with potential overwhelm. And also dealing with comparing what I’m doing with what other people are doing and thinking “ohh God, that was much better than what I’m putting on” and so I I’ve got various strategies.

I had in the past some severe mental health problems. I was diagnosed bipolar. So I’ve got many years of growing awareness about how to deal with my own personal mental health and how to stay well. Within even these intense periods.

It sounds like you’ve got a really strong support network around you, which is really good. Do you have any tips or information that you would give any other artists who are considering sharing their own stories as part of their fringe run?

I would suggest doing it elsewhere first, quite a few times. I have done it lots of times already so I’m quite one many levels quite used to doing it. I’m aware of what happens when I when I when it feels too much.

Like I said previously, I would say connect with nature, connect with your spiritual practise, if you have one. That’s the other thing I didn’t mention. I meditate every day, so I will be making sure I meditate.

Prepare beforehand before you appear on stage or wherever you’re performing. Whether it’s breathing exercises or meditation. I’ll be doing Qigong before each performance.

And be kind to yourself.

It can be very common when doing a performance for me to think ‘I’ve got to get this right’. But the thing is, nobody in the audience knows what right looks like, so I can deliver anything and it’s more about what the audience get from it rather than me thinking “ohh, I didn’t do this and I forgot that bit and or I could have done that differently or better or…”

Those are the kinds of things I would recommend to other people who are taking the step. It’s a really big step to share a personal story with other people.

The other thing that I know that happens when I do this is what the people in the audience get from what it is that I’m performing. And I know that suicide is one of the least talked about, and most shame filled areas in any of our lives. To be able to show people, to demonstrate, what’s possible [when dealing with] suicide and to encourage other people that they might find their own way of working through their grief and their hardship and their struggles. Then it can be done with grace and with humour and with love.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I would just like other people to know if they’ve got even a small shred of wanting, to turn what can be the most terrible thing that has happened in their life, if they can, bring art into it in some way. The transformational potential is incredible. My life has changed completely since I started taking this work out and all sorts of things have happened that I never thought would happen, I could never have known that certain things and certain people would come into my life.

In a sense, it’s one of the things I thank my mom for taking her own life, one of the things that has happened is that mine has completely blossomed. And I know that’s not going to be everybody’s story, but just to let people know that that’s what might happen if you just take that really courageous step, of getting out there and putting it out into the world somehow. Find your own way to do this. That would be my advice to others who might be in a similar situation.

I have a run of five shows. I knew I couldn’t do a full run. That would have been way too much for me. So that would be another piece of advice.

James’ show ‘Seventy-Eight Thank Yous’ is running from 16 – 20 August 2023 at Arthur Conan Doyle Centre.

We’d like to thank James for sharing his story. It’s really powerful.