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Telling stories from the brain

Brendan McLeod turns inward for Brain & Other Stories, running at the Maury Young Arts Centre on March 10

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The first time Brendan McLeod performed his monologue Brain, he had a moment of doubt.

"I remember sitting back stage being like, 'Why did I do this? I could've done something else,'" he recalls.

That's because the show delves into a deeply personal history, chronicling McLeod's struggles with mental health, namely obsessive compulsive disorder.

"I have OCD, so it tracks the genesis," he says, explaining the show. "It goes from when I was 12 and first starting to show symptoms to being diagnosed and feeling better because you know what it is, but then challenges after that too. It's weird patterns that happen in your mind that change your perception of the world."

But the other aspect of the performance that leaves McLeod vulnerable is the nature of a monologue. It features him, a stage and little else.

"It's just you (when you're performing a monologue)," he says. "I don't have any crazy lights or PowerPoint. The writing has to be bang on. You have to be present and not screw up the words; that sounds like a small thing, but it's not."

Luckily, McLeod has a wide range of experience on stage — from fronting the Canadian folk group The Fugitives to acting and as a slam poetry champion. That latter talent in particular is on display in Brain — or at least in the trailer for the performance.

In it, McLeod spits mile-a-minute descriptions, complete with articulate hand gestures and a captivating delivery, a hallmark of the art form.

"Definitely (the slam poetry experience is in) the fiery bits," he says. "And the pace is a bit (like slam). It's my most casual story-telling show. It's pretty straightforward. It has some rhythm and flow."

McLeod has been performing the production since 2015, but it will make its Whistler debut on Saturday (March 10) at the Maury Young Arts Centre as part of the Arts Whistler Live! series.

Packaged as Brain & Other Stories, the evening will start out with the monologue and then, in its second half, feature McLeod sharing other poems and pieces of writing. "(The second half) is more about politics, histrionics, goofy stories about my dad," he says. "It's nice to have the mix. Sometimes I just do Brain and it's nice... but it's one part of my life and it's pretty present — and obviously I'm fine with that because I do a show about it — but I have other things going on in my life. It's nice to do a more holistic show."

While he's currently in the midst of touring this performance, more recently, McLeod launched a new show called Exultation with pianist Sarah Hagen. "She's a fantastic piano player," he says. "She was looking to do this 'Opus 32' (composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff), which is 13 songs of really beautiful, amazing music. She performs them and she really wanted to combine that with a story-telling aspect. I based one poem or song or story off each of the 13."

The format is one song followed by one piece from McLeod inspired by that song. "It was weird because you're writing to emotion basically. Usually you're writing to content, but this was writing to emotion. It was really hard," he says. "But I love that show."

Meanwhile, he plans to tour Brain for at least two more years. Next up, he'll take an adapted version (read: less explicit content) to various schools. "It's just angled a bit differently," he says. "For the adults, there's explicit content, but the point of that is for people to actually talk about the specifics of what happens, so it's a more detailed view of mental illness."

To that end, his favourite feedback from audiences has been when those who don't suffer from mental illness say the production opened their eyes to others' struggles. "My favourite is when people come up and say, 'Oh, I never thought like that before. I could see how that would make sense,'" he says. "There's always people who struggle with mental illness who will (understand) more easily. But those who don't, it helps them."

Catch Brain & Other Stories on March 10 at 7 p.m. at the Maury Young Arts Centre. Tickets are $15 or $20 at the door. Get them at artswhistler.com.

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