A local playwright tried to burn one of his works, that years later, became an award-winning production that has given voice to so many struggling with mental health issues.

Londoner John Boc wrote How the Circus Vanished during a frenzied period in 1978 when he was dealing with a bipolar disorder. The play, which was first performed in London in 2003, is about two psychiatric patients who come to realize the presence of each other.

Boc tried to burn it and seven other plays. "I wanted to destroy my past," he said.

Luckily his daughter had grabbed three of the plays and packed them away.

Now many years later, his play is giving voice to mental health sufferers.

"John is a local and international unsung hero whose words have comforted and validated well over 3,000 people since the first production of How the Circus Vanished,” said actor Bill Hill, who will perform again in the remount of the play, along with Kathy Quayle-Pinkerton.

It opens on Halloween at the Palace Theatre’s Procunier Hall.

That date was chosen as it is the anniversary of the death of another bright light in the local theatre scene, Lesleigh Turner, who battled depression for many years.

Boc is battling OCPD now and is shy about being in public, but he has agreed to be in a panel discussion on mental health following the last two performances of How the Circus Vanished.

He said Hill was able to convince him to be part of the panel and he’s glad he did.
“I was feeling sorry for myself (because of the OCPD),” Boc said. “I thought, ‘Who am I to complain? I have a few more years left in me.’”

How the Circus Vanished won three awards at the London One Act Festival (LOAF), including Best Original Script. It has twice been voted as the best Continuing Medical Educational for Psychiatry, and received the Bravest Production Award at the 2009 Brickenden Awards.

A friend gave Boc the $50 needed to enter the play in LOAF and that led to the awards and a performance of the play in New York at an international conference.

Despite the award of Bravest Production, Boc said he doesn’t see himself as brave and gives Hill the credit for allowing his play to be seen by so many. “I never thought for a million years this would ever happen. It had been around since 1978 in a box. (Bill) is the workhorse behind this.”

Boc is pleased that the play continues to help others dealing with mental health issues.

He said one day while waiting for the bus at Dundas and Wellington, a man approached Boc and asked him if he was the playwright of How the Circus Vanished.

“He told me, ‘That play made me think. Very few plays have done that to me.’ So that made me feel good,” Boc said. “People also tell Bill that they finally realize themselves and the play has been the voice for them.”

Hill said he recognized the brilliance of the play from the start and he’s so pleased it’s helping others.

“(John) has been able to watch this play become a vehicle for speaking to the public about the de-stigmatization of mental health,” said Hill, who has worked at Parkwood Institute, Mental Health since 1982.

The play is also being performed for the SouthWestern Academic Health Network and on November 16, CEOs of the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) will see it in Toronto.

Boc said with more people sharing their mental health stories, he’s glad the government is putting more money into mental health. “It’s really important.”

Part of the funding is thanks to Boc’s play.

“I cannot think of a better way to validate John's play then to have the people that decide where the funding goes for mental health request it for their conference” Hill said.

Boc is looking forward to watching the play again, especially after his COPD diagnosis. “I’ll probably see a whole different way of thinking after I see it.”

So the play that Boc tried to extinguish with fire, is now ironically and fortuitously, shedding light on mental health.