Weyburn - An Archaeology of Madness

The 90 minute feature documentary, Weyburn - An Archaeology of Madness, weaves together musical and theatrical performance, art installations, the memories of former staff and patients and archival photos to bring alive the fascinating and stigmatized history of the Saskatchewan Mental Hospital located at Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

The spine of the story, the discovery and interpretation of the history of the Weyburn Mental Hospital, is shaped by the metaphor of archaeology. Andy Houston, director of the site-specific performance, The Weyburn Project, inspires a group of artists and performers to excavate the history of the Weyburn Mental Hospital. In interviews, former staff and patients of the hospital reveal the history that inspires the artists and performers in their search for ways to reanimate the pleasures and terrors, the accomplishments and the stigma that once influenced the lives of those who lived and worked here. Former staff tell of their lives on the wards, the military like discipline, the tremendous overcrowding, the mostly ineffectual treatments and the gradual emptying of the facility with the advent of the anti-psychotic drugs in the 1950’s.

Gordon, abandoned at the hospital as a nine year old by his mother in 1944, tells of his strategies for survival in this strange environment and his eventual release after 8 years.

Finally, performers and artists are ready to share what they have discovered by inviting the general public to tour the building and the ‘site specific’ performances they have created. The responses of the audience to the performances and art installations provide additional insights into the folklore and myths that surround the subject of mental illness.

The style of this documentary is flavored with some of the madness and schizophrenia that was so much a part of life for the patients and staff of Weyburn. One gets a pastoral feeling moving up the long treed drive towards the hospital which starkly contrasts with the feeling of moving through the long, dark, inner passages of the building. Archival photos and films are extensively used to bring the now empty rooms and passageways back to life as they highlight the recollections of former staff and patients and the actors’ interpretations. The compelling sights and sounds of the deteriorating building and the work of the artists and performers create montage sequences that give the audience a taste of the off kilter visual and auditory environment of the institution during its working days. Added to this, sound installations and original music composed for the show and performed in the hallways and cavernous rooms recreate the atmosphere of the Weyburn Mental Hospital.

This program is an entertaining and thought provoking history with a unique perspective.

Click to see 2 minute vignette