Inspirational. Eye-opening. Hopeful. Encouraging. Courageous. Truthful.
These are only some of the words audience members used to describe the 2015 “This Is My Brave – The Show” performance at the Artiphere’s Spectrum Theatre in Arlington, Virginia on Sunday, May 17th. I previously attended their Fall 2014 high school show, which only half of the debut show members performed in and could not wait until the new show date to arrive! For weeks the cast members were introduced via social media with short videos giving the audience an itty bitty taste of what was to come on show day and leaving you wanting to hear more at the show.
The Show Begins
Before the 16 cast members shared their stories on stage, the show began with an up and coming artist, Lexi Hayden singing the theme song of “Brave” written and originally sung by Sara Barielles. I have always liked this song but since meeting co-founders Jenn Marshall and Anne Marie Ames, the song has taken on so much more meaning to me than simply an upbeat song. It’s on my running race day playlist and coincidentally always comes on right when I need it most.
While Lexie was singing on the stage, it took a lot for me not to belt out with her “Honestly, I want to see you be brave!” I suggest a group sing-a-long at the end of the show next year so those of us who normally sing the song in the car with the windows rolled up can have one chance to belt out those powerful words without any fear of how it will sound!
Kicking it off, the Trio!
The show started with monologue by a trio of women (Adrienne, Nadia and Lynne) who have all experienced postpartum depression and in turn are very active in their communities to help women with PPD. Their humor was perfect to bring attention to an issue many women deal with but also showed the severity and validity of the emotions going through a new mom’s mind. I definitely could relate to thoughts of wanting to run away but the women reminded us that returning to our family is what actually made us brave. We were only one performance into the show and I already had used a Kleenex to wipe my tears.
Followed by the Daughter/Father Duo
Sweet and vibrant Phoebe was the first cast member to stand up in front of the audience on her own and although you could sense her nerves, there was also a sense of confidence in her voice. She shared her story of psychiatrists who did not have her best interest at heart and wading through the waters of depression. As I had a slight inside scoop on the cast members, I knew the next story was to be shared by her Dad, Kit and I couldn’t help but watch him watch his daughter on stage being amazingly brave. The tables switched when Kit was on stage and his daughter glowingly watched her Dad share his own story about bipolar disorder and choosing a new path in his life. The dynamic between these two made me realize even more that families can get through the obstacles of mental health and still come out on the other side and be stronger than ever.
Followed by many more stories of hope and inspiration
Jessica read the poem she wrote titled “My Last Words” and had me in tears very early on as she wondered what she would have missed should she had successfully taken her life many years ago. The last lines of the Garth Brooks song “The Dance” was a perfect ending to her segment.
The personality on the small frame of Ev was just so that you wanted to hug her and then when she started singing and playing her guitar I was entranced with her lyrics “You can always come home” and the rhythm of the music was one you couldn’t help but tap your foot and sway as she played.
The confidence shown on stage by Stephanie was encouraging as she has fought to be in the place she is now professionally as an attorney, writer and speaker and personally as it took 18 months for her to finally find the correct medicine regime. As an African-American, she broached a topic about how often African Americans are discouraged to share their business with those outside of their homes but in Stephanie’s case, she decided she could no longer travel in silence or shame anymore. My sentiments exactly!!
When watching the preview videos, it was Lisa’s video that stuck in my mind for days after. I too am a kid who grew up overseas and could relate to the moving involved and learning new cultures etc. The years and years of keeping the family secret about her dad’s multiple suicide attempts were only so much for one person to bare. You could tell she loved and respected her Dad but the burden of her families secret became too big to carry. She found her brave when she allowed herself to come to terms with her father’s illness after his successful suicide and share some humor along the way through her blog Lemon Gloria.
As someone who has spent time in a mental hospital myself, I could also relate to Michelle’s three-part poetry reading about 1) Inpatient treatment, 2) Partial Treatment and 3) Discharge. It isn’t often how the movies portray a psychiatric hospital to be and Michelle explained beautifully how dependent we can be on the staff that are there during our stay as “the staff carry your life until you can on your own” and concluded her piece so eloquently with “one must fall before they can fly.”
The production had such a great variety of written performances as well as musical performances and Kiran was one of them. Her song and accompanying guitar piece was so beautiful that I asked her after the performance how I could get a copy of the song she performed. A line in her song spoke volumes to me and I had to write it down: “Praying for the freedom for the light inside me to shine.” The beauty of this simple statement was evident while Kiran was performing – her light is definitely shining bright!
In the world of mental illness there can be a lot of “inside jokes” ranging from how a psychiatrist talks to you and what you think they are really thinking. So when you ask for a certain anti-psychotic prescription at the pharmacy, those who are prescribed those medications can’t help but wonder what the pharmacist is actually thinking when they see our name associated with that script. Claudia had me rolling with laughter during her humor piece and my moments of “yep, been there done that.”
The funny thing about mental illness is that you often have no idea what someone really has or does struggle with until they share their story. I had met Banna at a previous event and besides our connection with “This Is My Brave” (she in the cast and my part on team #running4brave) we didn’t share our stories at that time. When I heard Banna’s performance titled “Meeting Paul,” I was surprised because in initially meeting Banna you would have no idea of the manic episodes she has experienced. Her manic episodes, as she describes in her story, were like a chase scenes in an action film that were bigger than life and almost unimaginable. Now as she has managed her illness she explained that “no one gives you a manual on healing yourself – you have to write your own.”
As a fellow sufferer of anxiety, I felt for Taylor as she described how she suffered from separation anxiety as an infant and still is managing her anxiety to this day. There is no doubt she has studied creative non-fiction writing as her way with words, tucked in with a little humor, makes listening to her speak become pure enjoyment. If you haven’t read any of Taylor's writing you are missing out!
With perfect placement, singer/songwriter Niki then joined the stage to sing her song titled “Clueless.” The lyric of “The sun will rise another day and we will wake up and once again learn to live another day” should really be the next theme song for a show like this. Niki shares about the symbolic mask of a smile she would wear day in and day out when she was truly hurting deeply inside. I hope there are many more songs written by her as she pursues her career in music.
Laurie brings it home
And last but definitely not least was the courageous Laurie, who shared her perspective as a mother who has lost a child to suicide. The pain of losing her son Nathaniel, who had been hurting for so long, was written all throughout her piece but a sense of courage and fight were evident too. Her story and goal of encouraging all of us to speak up about our illness so others will not feel like they need to live in fear or silence: “By sharing Nathaniel’s story, it entangles the pain. We are not alone and we cannot hear silence. You deserve to be here.”
Although a story carrying such emotion was the finale of the show, it was placed in the right place for a show like this. Laurie’s story brought the audience to place of pure and raw emotion whether you have experienced a loss or not, you felt the sadness in the room but her closing remarks gave a sense of hope and encouragement that shows and presentations like “This Is My Brave” have to continue to occur.
People need to feel comfortable and open in sharing their own struggles with mental illness enabling them to garner support from others around them. In attending a show like this, I know I was not the only one leaving the room feeling encouraged and empowered to do my part in helping those with mental illness to realize they are not alone in their fight. Shows like this will not only get a conversation going about bipolar or anxiety or depression but keep the conversation going and find various ways we can support each other along the way.
Kudos to the cast members of the 2015 “This Is My Brave” show and its producers! You all have allowed the discussion on mental illness to open even wider and your bravery to share your own vulnerable and dark moments with the world should be applauded over and over again. Thank you for doing what you have done continue in the fight to bring awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental illnesses.