A play called “Marked” that Don Weitz was featured in (created by the Friendly Spike Theatre Band)
We Can't Forget You – We Won't Forget You
by Ruth Stackhouse
He was a self-described anti-psychiatry psychiatric survivor, and an anti-poverty shit-disturber activist, all to the benefit of so many, including The Friendly Spike Theatre Band (FSTB). Don Weitz was also an actor and a playwright.
Don became involved with The FSTB in 1993 and he remained an active member until 2007. His contribution helped define the company as being the feisty activist theatre it is, working with passion, like him, toward social justice.
We met Don while conducting research for our play Marked: Living With a Stigma; A Woman's Journey Through The Psychiatric System (Innes, 1993). Impressed with our production he agreed to play a cameo role in the film adaptation of the story. Seeing that he was an outstanding actor as well as a compelling activist, we invited Don to collaborate with the company and develop Angels of 999; Psychiatric Patients' History at The Toronto Hospital for the Insane (Reaume/Stackhouse/Innes 1999, 2000). It was presented at The Theatre Centre (1999) and The Great Hall (2000) in Toronto, and an abridged version was performed at The American Association of the History of Medicine Conference (2000) in Bethesda MD, and Disability Culture Night (2000) Ryerson University, Toronto. Don played both a psychiatrist and a farmer who was the caring father of a psychiatric patient. Ironically, Don did embody both the "patient" and "professional" realities in his lifetime. After earning a Masters degree in psychology from Boston University he worked for 15 years as a psychologist in Cleveland and Toronto. But in his youth he was a psychiatric patient, forcibly subjected to 110 insulin sub-coma shock treatments at McLean Hospital. He raged against this and other injustices for the rest of his life. He was in a unique position to challenge "the system", and he did challenge it, constantly. In 1977 Weitz co-founded the Ontario Mental Patients Association, which was later renamed On Our Own. This was the first self-help survivors group in Ontario. In 1980 he co-founded the magazine Phoenix Rising, which gave voice to survivors in Canada for a decade. He is the author of the e-book Rise Up/Fight Back: Selected Writings of an Antipsychiatry Activist (2011). Many other projects followed – including his 2019 e-book Resistance Matters: The Radical Vision of an Antipsychiatry Activist.
In late 2000 Don shared with us his seminal rant: Nameless/Homeless. This epic poem about psychiatric survival, homelessness and police brutality inspired our next production The Edmond Yu Project (Weitz/Innes 2001/2007). Edmond Yu was a former medical student and homeless psychiatric survivor who was shot and killed by Toronto police on the Spadina bus in 1997. And then came A Common Cause (2003) for which both Don and his good friend Mel Starkman worked with our collective to develop the story. It was based on Starkman's psychiatric review board hearing.
Don was also a very caring person – for his daughter Lisa, his son Mark, and for friends who were struggling at times, such as Mel Starkman, whom he helped on several occasions to obtain a place to live. The support from Don allowed Mel to continue his active life in the community and with Friendly Spike.
In later years Don's busy schedule kept him from being onstage, but he continued to support the company. Many of us will remember one of his last readings, a fiery passionate tribute at a memorial dinner for Mel Starkman after he passed. It was held at The Hot House in 2019. Don closed his piece with “ Rage, rage against the dying of the light”. *
We now remember Don, our dear friend and fellow thespian, with his own words, from a poem he wrote for Edmond Yu : “We can't forget you. We won't forget you”. **
* “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” (Dylan Thomas, 1947, from the poem Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night)
** Originally recited for Edmond Wai Kong Yu as "We can't forget Yu. We won't forget Yu." (Weitz, 2000).