Grief

Theatre and Mental Health

If you or someone you know is in distress do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline. This number in the USA is 1-800-273-8255, If you are outside the USA here are some international hotlines. If your country isn’t listed a quick Google search should turn up something. Additionally there are hotlines and resources for eating disorders, abuse, general depression and anxiety, and most other major issues. Not just suicide. Do not hesitate to ask and find a resource if you or someone else needs help.

Henri Tomic

Mental health has become an incredibly important discussion topic; there is almost no topic that is discussed in the news and online more frequently - other than maybe Trump and Brexit, of course.
Even though well-being and self-care have been a part of human life for centuries, it's almost like mindfulness, Eastern medicine and a new generation of influencers have made it trendy to care about suicide prevention and your mental health.
And in fact, inspirational quotes and raising awareness can really save lives. Nevertheless, there is another type of entertainment that had been doing exactly that for quite a while - the theatre.
Ever since we started producing plays, the mental state of the characters was of utmost importance to the plot, whether you look back to Shakespeare, or even farther back, all the way to Greek theatre, the challenge for the hero was to keep his sanity, with all the dramatic things happening around him. Depending on the type of play or show, he either succeeds or surrenders to his environment. Therefore, it is no wonder that almost any show can provide inspiration and give some energy and hope to its audience. 
We all go through tough times sometimes and are the heroes in our own stories, so why not utilizing our passion to prevent or cure mental illness?
Here are some ways in which we can use different ways of the theatre to work on our mental health: 

1. Dance: Swedish mental health professionals studied more than 100 teenage girls who were struggling with issues like depression and anxiety. Half of the girls were attending weekly dance classes, while the other half weren’t. The results indicated that the girls who took the dance classes had improved mental health and reported a boost in their mood. These positive effects lasted up to eight months after the dance classes ended. It could be concluded that dance might result in a very positive experience for participants and could potentially contribute to sustained new healthy habits. Apart from that, difference dance styles will have different other factors influencing one's health: 
- Almost any dance style trains the dancer's muscle strength and comes with a lot of movement. Both have shown in studies to be even more productive than most antidepressants. 
- Individual Dance styles (Jazz, Ballet, etc.) work a lot on your posture. Improving your posture is also known as power posing and can induce positive and healthy thoughts. 
- Music is one of the most powerful tools to express and live through emotions.
- Most dance styles benefit from collaboration. Interacting with others and a feeling of belonging can help you out of almost any crises and improve anxiety and depression.




2. Singing: A University of East Anglia study of singers involved in free weekly workshops in Norfolk found benefits to mood and social skills. It also had a positive effect in preventing relapses in clinically depressed patients. 
Breathing techniques are at the heart of most psychological treatments and are equally important in singing techniques. 
On top of that being able to improve one's voice, reaching and hitting more notes, and making music without any tools creates a feeling of a high self-efficacy, which is closely related to maintaining or gaining a stable mental health.

3. Acting/Drama therapy: "Under the guise of play and pretend, we can - for once - act in new ways. The bit of distance from real life afforded by drama enables us to gain perspective on our real-life roles and patterns and actions and to experiment actively with alternatives. ", says Renee Emunah, PhD, RDT/BCT the Director of the Drama Therapy Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
Stepping in somebody else's shoes allows you to leave behind your own problems and worries and also trains -similarly to singing - your sense of self-efficacy, which also gives you back control over your emotional regulation and mental health. Robert Landy, PhD, RDT/BCT, Founding Director of the Drama Therapy Program at New York University goes even further and states: "Unlike talk therapy, drama therapy gets there really fast. Role-playing -acting out issues and problems - is more effective than talking." Collaboration and getting in contact with others is at the core of drama therapy and has a similar effect to other gestalt or art therapies.

4. Watching theatre: Most mental illnesses work like a down-hill spiral, in order to move back up action and activity is required. However, activity requires motivation and inspiration, which is often hard to find. As all of you probably know, Musicals, Plays or even just Soundtracks can make you feel a lot better and inspire you to take your own life back into your own hands. This can often times be the spark to trigger an upwards movement, rather than a downwards one.
On top of that, the theatre forms a community in which anyone is welcomed, and one finds people to talk to even if it is just through social media. Having a social network around you makes most things a lot more endurable.  

With that, which other side effects of our all passion have you noticed? Have you ever been struggling and has the theatre helped you? Let me know in the comment section below. 

If you are struggling right now, I urge you to reach out for help, and in emergencies, call your local suicide prevention hotline. Keep moving on; we're all in this together!

 

Tripping Over My Own Feet as I Go Fleetingly Down Memory Lane

By Grumpy Olde Guy® (a/k/a Michael Kape)

One thing I hate more than seeing bad theatre (and I’ve seen a lot of bad theatre) is moving (one of life’s great traumas, I’m told, along with losing a spouse—which has also happened to me; more about that shortly). Right now, I’m pulling up stakes and leaving my cozy retirement abode in Palm Springs to face life again in New York City (sounds crazy, but I’m not known for my rational, sane moments; if anyone has a lead on an apartment, let me know—please!).

The realtor is on my case to “declutter” my place. I mean, how can you declutter decades of memories—some even older than me (if that’s even possible)? As I write this, I’ve just packed away 60 some odd years’ worth of Playbills and theatre programs. Those are NOT clutter! I swear they are not clutter. You might as well say my right arm is clutter. (Okay, it does get in the way sometimes, but I still need it. I need my programs and Playbills.)


Playbills.jpg

Theatre has always been a part of my life—good, bad, or indifferent, it’s always been there for me. Even in the worst of times. I have had a worst of times: My partner of 23 years died in my arms on Thursday, March 27, 2008. It was all kind of sudden—and devastating (my collapse in the hospital after it happened was something out of a bad Lifetime movie). The worst [expletive deleted] moment of my life. So, what did I do? A week later, I was at New York City Opera seeing a production of Candide directed by an old friend from college. (Artie never could direct comedy, and I walked at intermission—probably because it wasn’t funny, and I just wasn’t in the mood yet for bad theatre.)

Don’t think of this as cold-hearted. If the situation had been reversed, my late partner would have been at the theatre too.

Over the next few weeks, I grew increasingly morose (understandable under the circumstances) yet continued to go to the theatre as often as I could. This was New York City, and you could get tickets to everything from the flashiest and most-expensive Broadway shows to an Off-Off-Broadway show presented in a loft. Tickets could be had for cheap from the seat filler services (Theatermania Gold Club, Play-By-Play, etc.). And in truth, I just couldn’t face the prospect of going home to an empty apartment every night. Could you?

The research psychiatrist in the office next to mine saw me one day (had I been crying?) and said, “You look terrible. I’m sending you to see my friend Bill.” He did. Turns out Bill was the leading psychoanalyst in New York City. He listened to me talk for 45 minutes and then said, “You don’t need me. You just need to remember three words: MAKE NEW MEMORIES.” And so I did—seeing as much theatre as I possibly could. A total of 245 shows in the space of 12 months. Sometimes three shows on weekdays and five on weekends. Making new memories.

Except now, in packing away those Playbills in anticipation for my move home, I discovered I’d lost a lot of those new memories. Yikes. It isn’t Alzheimer’s, I swear. I was tested six months ago and ended up showing the doctor where he was wrong. Okay, I’m still a smartass. But as someone who used to educate doctors (yeah, me with a degree in theatre), I know when I’m right.

I’ve culled several Playbills from the bad years to try to remember something about the shows my memory has lost. Some of them featured well-known names in the cast. Some of them are just not memorable. So, I’m hoping some of you can help. These are from my bad period. Do you know them? And if you were connected to any of them, my apologies in advance.

·         A Cool Dip in the Barren Saharan Crick, Playwrights Horizons. It had an interesting set. That’s all I can remember.

·         All New People, Second Stage Theatre. Remember Zach Braff from Scrubs? He branched out into writing, first a movie, Garden State, and then this play. All I can remember about this piece is my friend Dean was the general manager. That’s kind of sad.

·         Antony and Cleopatra, New York City Opera. This piece by Samuel Barber has an interesting history. It was written for the opening of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. It received terrible reviews then and was largely forgotten. New York City Opera was having a bad time; it had lost use of its home for a year (while it was being reconstructed). So, it resurrected Antony and Cleopatra in a staged concert at Carnegie Hall. Sometimes, things are better left dead. The first act was painful, which is all I remember of it now. But the most memorable thing about the night was intermission, when half the audience ran in droves for the exits, never to return for the second act. I was right there with them.

·         Boy’s Life, Second Stage Theatre. Featured Jason Biggs, Betty Gilpin. Directed by Michael Greif. No clue.

·         Compulsion, The Public Theater. I don’t remember this at all, despite it starring Mandy Patinkin with direction by Oskar Eustis.

·         Cradle and All, Manhattan Theatre Club. Written by Daniel Goldfarb. I think I vaguely remember something about two parents who can’t handle a screaming baby.

·         Dust at Westside Theatre. I should really be ashamed of myself. I actually saw this opening night. It starred Richard Masur (who was a couple of classes ahead of me in college) and Hunter Foster (post-Urinetown and pre-[title of show]). My friend Hugh was promoting it. Again, I remember nothing about it.

·         Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco. The buzz was super strong about this production. It starred Geoffrey Rush, Susan Sarandon, Lauren Ambrose, and Andrea Martin. What could go wrong? Even my BFF was urging me to go from the other side of the country. I took my friend Jill (a big macher in the Fringe Festival) to see it with me. I don’t remember much about it because the creative team managed to take fascinating Ionesco and make it sleep-inducing.

·         Kin, Playwrights Horizons. Featured Bill Buell. Directed by Sam Gold. I’ve got nothing.

·         Made in Heaven at Soho Playhouse. Nothing. I do know my friend Hugh was promoting it. Maybe I should ask him.

·         Mindgame at Soho Playhouse. One of the lead producers was Michael Butler, the original producer of Hair on Broadway. The lead was Keith Carradine (The Will Rogers Follies). The direction was by Ken Russell—yes, that Ken Russell—in his first break from directing movies. Can’t remember it at all.

·         Romantic Poetry, Manhattan Theatre Club. Actually, I do remember some things about this one, mostly it being one of the most misbegotten ideas for a musical, with book, lyrics, and direction by John Patrick Shanley, and music by Henry Krieger. Mark Linn-Baker was in the cast. It was not a good evening of theatre, sad to say. It was Mr. Shanley’s first—and last—outing with a musical.

·         Séance on a Wet Afternoon, New York City Opera. Libretto, lyrics, music, and orchestration by Stephen Schwartz. Let’s put it this way: this production is what killed New York City Opera. Really. It wasn’t long but felt like it went on for two weeks instead of two hours. It was extremely expensive for City Opera to produce. It just was not good. It just was not memorable. It was the final dagger in the back of City Opera (which had just one good production that entire season, and this wasn’t it). BTW, this is not me being vindictive about Mr. Schwartz (I have plenty of reasons for that); this is about a substandard piece of work.

·         Side Effects, MCC Theatre. For those of us of a certain age (i.e., children of the ’60s), Moonchildren by Michael Weller was an anthem play. It defined us in so many ways. Alas, not even Joely Richardson and Cotter Smith could make this piece by Weller register in our brains.

·         The Book of Grace, The Public Theatre. Written by Suzan-Lori Parks. Nope. Nothing. Completely gone from my memory banks.

·         The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, The Public Theatre. The cast included such notables as Michael Cristofer, Steven Pasquale, and Stephen Spinella. Direction by Michael Greif. Written by Tony Kushner. All I can remember is being incredibly bored and looking at my watch—a lot. Not one of Mr. Kushner’s better efforts (I think I’m being kind but I’m not sure).

·         The Kid, The New Group. I remember the build-up of this musical, based on the book by Dan Savage. It starred Christopher Sieber (pre-Shrek) and Jill Eikenberry. The New Group invited subscribers to a talk-back with the creative team before the show opened. Directed by Scott OMG Elliott. Do I remember anything about it? The set is about it.

·         The Language of Trees, Roundabout Underground. This is embarrassing for me. I received an email from Roundabout thanking me for the lovely comments I made after seeing the show. I don’t remember the comments. I don’t remember the show. Help!

·         The Other Place, MCC Theater. This is one show I really do want to remember better. It starred Laurie Metcalf in a stunning performance as a woman losing her mind. It was directed by Joe Mantello (one of his best efforts). I just wish I could remember it. I do recall walking out of the Lucille Lortel Theatre sobbing.

·         The People in the Picture, Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54. I know it’s a play about the Holocaust. It starred Donna Friggin’ Murphy, and featured Alexander Gemignani, Lewis J. Stadlen, and Joyce Van Patten. It was a musical, but I can’t recall a single song from it. (Some of the songs were in Yiddish, if that helps.)

* * *

And that’s only half of the Playbills I culled. I’ll spare you the rest. It does go to show some talented people can do some terrible things when they try (not intentionally, of course). And if you remember any of these better than I do, please let me know.

I guess this proves there is such a thing as seeing too much theatre. I know there is such a thing as seeing too little. A co-worker of mine during this period boasted how he had only seen three live theatre performances in his life. When I told him I had seen five in one weekend, he looked at me like I was out of my mind. Maybe I was. Maybe I still am. To wit: For four years I took a generic blood pressure medication called valsartan. This generic was manufactured in a Chinese factory and distributed in the United States by three different companies (one of which was an old client of mine).

Last July, I started having horrible spasms, sometimes violent, for no apparent reason. Having done years of medical research for work, I started on a quest to find out the cause. I plowed through tons of medical literature, touching briefly on a study done by Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in 1999. It mentioned a mere 22 cases uncovered in the course of the study, all causing a rare form of Tourette’s Syndrome due to a poisonous substance known as NDMA. It was interesting but of no help to me—or so I thought. Then I received a letter from my pharmacy. The valsartan I had been taking was tainted with NDMA. A doctor on the same campus as La Jolla Playhouse (where a few of us recently saw the premiere of a new musical, Diana) finally diagnosed me as someone living with Tourette.

My biggest fear about having Tourette isn’t the spasms. I don’t do the verbal (so no inappropriate cussing). No, my biggest fear is I wouldn’t be able to go to the theatre anymore because my episodes would be disruptive to the rest of the audience (and I’d be asked to leave). For me not to be able to go to the theatre any more? A fate worse than death. Really. So far, knock on wood, I can control the spasms pretty well (not completely) and I’m still attending. Go figure.

 

(Grumpy Olde Guy® a/k/a Michael Kape has haunted so many theatres he’s applying for membership in the Theatre Ghost Society. He has been known to use theatre as therapy when his world is at its darkest.)

"I've Had Enough of Just Passing By Life": How One Musical Changed Our Lives

Kelly Ostazeski

Fans of musicals often can cite one musical that changed their lives, whether it's the show that inspired a performer to pursue theatre as a career, the first show we ever saw that got us into theatre, or in this case, how a musical can bring us out of darkness and back to the light.

In this case, it's the musical Hello, Dolly, and how the recent revival impacted so many lives. No matter what actress the audience saw play Dolly, they left the Shubert Theatre transformed. I've interviewed several fans of the show who felt that this one show somehow impacted their lives. Most of the interviewees, including myself, saw actress Donna Murphy as Dolly, but a few here also saw Bernadette Peters and Bette Midler.

Before we proceed, there's something that makes the show even more powerful: both Murphy and Peters share a connection with their character, their own personal loss of their husbands. This makes certain moments, like Dolly's monologues to Ephraim to let her go and let her move on, even more emotional. People often think of Hello, Dolly as a simple, fun musical comedy - and it is, but like so many classics, there is so much depth and emotion at its core. This show is about a woman who wants to move on from the loss of her husband. Yes, she's a matchmaker and she meddles in the lives of the other characters, but while she improves the lives of those around her and helps them, she also needs to find her own happiness again.

Without Dolly Levi, I wouldn't be a writer for this blog. Because of this show, I've found a goal again, a drive again, and I felt my heart coming alive again. Yes, these are lyrics to the famous and inspirational song "Before the Parade Passes By". These are the lyrics that changed me. Before I saw the show (a second time, and it happened to be Murphy's last performance, on January 7, 2018 - a year ago, exactly. Yes, I planned this article for the anniversary of the life-affirming, changing performance).

I knew I was depressed. I'd given up on my career goals and I was settling for a job I had no passion in. I had just lost my grandmother and several other sources of inspiration in early 2016. I felt stuck for two years and filled the void with anything I could distract myself with. There was always a looming feeling of emptiness. I had no reason to carry on. When I saw the show a first time, I loved it, but I guess I wasn't ready to let go. Perhaps the universe was trying to get me to open my heart again.

Something about the energy of the audience, the joy of the show, the optimism of Dolly Levi and her personal journey to "rejoining the human race", and the masterful, emotional performance of Donna Murphy - something woke up inside my heart that day a year ago. I literally "felt my heart coming alive again" as I sat in the theatre. I was changed. Not only could I feel the love of theatre and performing radiating from Murphy on stage, and from the cast members to this insanely talented Broadway legend while she worked her magic, I could feel the audience giving it back.

Maybe it was partially Murphy herself who brought about this change - because I went to BroadwayCon later that month and saw her on a panel about audition stories and the panelists all emphasized our uniqueness, and suddenly I felt like I didn't have to compare myself to others. Suddenly I felt I could start trying again. That's when I realized maybe there's hope for me. Maybe I am enough, maybe I am worth it. Something was missing from my life and I think it was theatre. I saw more Broadway shows last year than since I felt myself sinking futher into depression. Musical theatre completes me - and Hello, Dolly, this panel at BroadwayCon, and meeting and connecting with Murphy and experiencing her kindness - these all helped me realize that. Murphy has told me to be good to myself and to keep doing what I love, and I'm trying. Now I want to take on the world. I want to live life to the fullest and do better, be better, be the best version of me. I want to live those dreams and work toward them.

I started taking voice lessons again. I saw more theatre. I went to New York City (which I've always cited as my happy place, where dreams come true, where I've met most of my inspirations) a lot. I made plans to move there soon, and to no longer take no for an answer, to keep trying. Because really, "I've had enough of just passing by life". Who wants to watch life just pass by and miss out on so much because you don't feel like you're good enough? And just because anxiety and depression tells you you're not worth it? That's not living. That's what I got out of Hello, Dolly.

Murphy returned to the role of Dolly in July and August of 2018, and I got to see her (and talk to her at the stage door) several more times, now with this awareness of what she and Dolly mean to me, and I got to take several friends with me, as well as make several friends through the show. Those were wonderful days I will always remember, and moments I will always cherish.

I wanted to show how we've all been changed by one musical. We've all struggled, we've all been inspired by this magical show. These friends, the people I interviewed for this article, we've all been changed by this extraordinary show.

Before the Parade...

I look back on 2018 with fondness because of all the memories attached to Hello, Dolly, and I honestly don't know where I'd be now if I hadn't found this show when I did. I don't know what I would want out of life; I don't know if I'd have any dreams, or what would keep be going.

Life before Dolly, for all of us, wasn't as bright.

Robbyne had also just lost her grandmother and that loss made her lose hope in her dreams. "I was in a very dark place,"she wrote. Zach was also in a dark place: "I felt trapped, like my life was on autopilot and I was stuck in a rut. Work life was far from perfect, I felt isolated, and was struggling with depression for the first time in many years."

Allie went to see the show with her mother, and noticed a connection between Dolly and her mom. "[My mom] is an incredibly strong inspiring woman who has sacrificed so much for her family. At the time she was in the process of divorcing my dad who had been abusive and terrible to her for my entire life. My mom reached a point where she realized that her marriage was not healthy for her or her children and left her husband of twenty-five years."

Another fan, Kaity, had also experienced loss. "I was floundering. I didn’t know what to do with my life. My dad had passed away about 2.5 years prior, and I felt guilty for feeling joy when I didn’t have him in my life."

Then we all bought a ticket to see this classic, joyous Broadway musical, and were all transported to Yonkers and New York City for a journey to happiness.

In the Theatre

I asked each fan what specifically about the show and the performances that moved us, and so many of the answers were similar, but it was also really interesting to see the differences. Something different captured each of our hearts. The most commonly moving moment was also my favorite, "Before the Parade Passes By". At Murphy's last performance in August, I remember sobbing at intermission after this song, because it was so emotional and so powerful, and I was there sharing it one last time with so many of the friends I'd made through this show.

Rebecca, who also saw Donna Murphy, wrote, "I especially loved her approach to ‘Parade’, the way she went through a whole range of different emotions was very touching and made everybody in the audience connect with the character and her story... I also was very worried that she would start crying during ‘Parade’ in her first performance (I certainly did) because it was so incredibly charged with emotion."

Allie, who saw Bernadette Peters, said, "As we were watching the show...I had a moment of realization during the song 'Before the Parade Passes By' of just how similar my mom was to Dolly. They were both strong talented women who, for different reasons, were coming out of dark periods in their lives. And even though they were older they still had fight left, they still had the ability to get life back into their lives!"

"Dolly reclaiming her heart and her joy from years of grief and sorrow, and I needed that so much," Kaity wrote. "I needed to see Dolly’s heart coming alive again, reclaiming her life before the parade passed her by. I needed the joy of the technicolor Sunday Clothes, of the pastel wonderland of 'Dancing'. I needed it all. I needed this wonderful woman more than I ever knew." She also mentioned an incredible line near the end of the show, as spoken by Cornelius Hackl: "The world is full of wonderful things!" It's amazing how a simple line like that can make you smile and make you see the world a little differently.

Zach, who was lucky enough to see all three Dollys in the Broadway production, mentioned the famous "Oak Leaf Monologue" and Murphy's characterization. "[Donna Murphy] connected with this role in a way I have only rarely seen from any actor or actress in any kind of role, and it was moving from start to finish. Her interpretation of Dolly was one of a woman ready to reclaim her life, to stop living from day-to-day and really savor the feeling of living in the moment and celebrating the big and small things that make life worth living." The Oak Leaf Monologue happens right before "Before the Parade Passes By" and is a monologue to Dolly's late husband Ephraim. Dolly wants to let go of the pain, "rejoin the human race", and carry on. "She claims her own agency in that moment," Zach wrote, "and reclaims her life after years of grieving and trying to avoid moving on out of fear of losing her beloved Ephraim forever."

Robbyne, who also saw all three of the Dollys, was moved by a scene between Dolly and Horace toward the end of the show. Dolly asks Horace, "Am I a somebody?" Robbyne says, "As someone who’s always been very insecure and felt invisible, it always spoke deeply to my heart, and it made me feel like maybe I could matter too."

Others connected to different aspects of Dolly and the performances. Lorraine, who saw Bernadette Peters, wrote, "I love Dolly for the fact the lead is outspoken in a time where women should be meek, that she stands her ground, shows how to make an entrance and how to outwit many a man."

Life After the Parade

Theatre can change our lives even in the smallest way. Rebecca wrote that every Tuesday she thought of Donna Dolly Tuesdays, since in her original run, Murphy was the alternate and performed only on Tuesdays (and during Bette Midler's scheduled vacations).

"I left the theatre feeling more open and joyful than I had felt in years," Kaity said. She also wrote, "Hello, Dolly has connected to me to amazing people, both fans of the show and performers in the show. The show itself gave me a place of refuge while it was running, a safe place to just forget my troubles and be immersed in Dolly’s world for 2.5 hours. I’m a completely different person now than I was before I saw Hello, Dolly, and I’m so much better for it."

"After seeing Hello, Dolly and meeting [Donna Murphy] at the stage door," Christian wrote, "I felt that I could be happy more often. I also felt that I could live my life once more. Dealing with certain things in my private life, that show taught me that I can begin my life again. I can un-pause and continue the chapter I was meant to live and to finish. That we all deserve to be happy and to have seconds chances in all areas in our lives."

Robbyne wrote, "Donna Murphy has taught me so much about the integrity and humility I aspire to have, and the way I hope to make people feel through kindness and caring...She is just captivating to watch. Her authenticity and talent just radiate the entire time she is performing...Seeing her strength, and her ability to keep going through the pain [of loss] and to continue her acting career, made me want to try again in my own. I had given up hope when I lost my Grama. [Donna Murphy] was the one to reignite my acting goals and dreams."

Zach wrote, "I'm a more positive and optimistic person for having experienced this show...Like Dolly, I found a drive to rejoin the human race, to stop wasting away in loneliness, and to seize the day and the opportunities I see right in front of me...Highs are a bit higher now, and the lows last a little less of a long time."  He also said, "Hello, Dolly is one of those shows that from the first note of the overture to the last note of the curtain call is about being positive, about facing challenges, about meeting them head on, about never taking no for an answer when it comes to our own happiness and the happiness of others."

So Long, Dearie

Hello, Dolly closed on Broadway in August 2018, and is now on tour across the country starring Betty Buckley as Dolly. If you have a chance, and especially if you need a little inspiration, go see it. Any show closing on Broadway is sad for its fans, but fans of Dolly are keeping the love and inspiration taught by this wonderful show alive in our hearts. It's not always easy to keep going, after having such a light in our lives. I know I try to carry the messages of Dolly and the journey of this character with me, and always will.

Allie said, "This show and what it helped me learn about my mom helped me see that it really doesn’t matter where you are in life, it’s never too late to grab life by the horns and make a difference."

Zach described his life after Dolly as more positive. "I notice the joy around me more often, and humming the tunes from the show helps me get through some of the tougher times life has thrown at me."

"I am forever changed by the beauty and the heart of this show," Robbyne wrote, "It is filled with memories that I will treasure deeply for the rest of my life. From special moments during the many shows, to my personal interactions and conversations with [Donna Murphy], to meeting some of my dearest friends because of Hello, Dolly. I am permanently changed in some amazing ways."

"I try to live my life how Dolly (and [Donna Murphy]) would want me to, with joy and heart. I take leaps, and I try not to hide behind a cloud of grief. I know my dad would want me to be happy, and that’s what I try to do, always," Kaity said. "The first time I met Donna Murphy at stage door, I told her that I felt true joy for the first time since my dad passed in that theatre. I told her that I felt so guilty feeling that joy previously, but I felt like he would want this for me."

Be positive. Feel joy. Feel the freedom to be happy after a loss or a tragedy in our lives. Never take no for an answer and move forward. Hold your head up high. Live life to the fullest. Keep dancing. Feel you heart coming alive again.

These are just a few things we found through Hello, Dolly. As Dolly sings in the title song, "It's so nice to be back home where I belong."

Carol_Channing_-_1964.jpg



Special Thanks

Thanks to all those I interviewed for the article: Robbyne, Zach, Kaity, Rebecca, Allie, Lorraine, Christian. You all deserved your stories to be told. I am sorry I had to condense so many of your wonderful, eloquent, emotional answers. We were all moved by Dolly, so inspired by the magic inside the Shubert Theatre. Let that magic live on forever. To all the friends I found through Dolly, this is for all of us. Happy Dolly-versary to those of you who were there that night.

Special thanks to everyone involved in the 2017-2018 Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly, especially those mentioned in interview answers: Donna Murphy (especially), Bernadette Peters, Bette Midler, Kate Baldwin, Gavin Creel, David Hyde Pierce, Victor Garber, Santino Fontana, Taylor Trensch, and Charlie Stemp.

"Dolly'll never go away again."

Thank you.

Come From Away: Stories and Lessons of Those who Lived It

Steven Sauke

The news came as a shock. That morning, I was emerging from my room when my mom met me in the hallway. “Steven!” she said. I could hear in her voice that something serious had happened. I wondered if I was in trouble for some reason. Her voice trembling, she said, “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!”

Surely it must have been an accident. But what a catastrophic accident! We rushed into the living room and watched as they showed the horrifying footage on the news. Someone in a building near the Twin Towers called in to the news and told the anchors that they had seen it from their window. A plane had deliberately flown into the Tower. Deliberately? Who would do such a thing? It occurred to me that this was the “JFK” event of my generation, where everyone remembers where they were when they learned of it. I looked at my watch to take note of the date. September 11, 2001. I needn’t have bothered.

As we watched in horror, a second plane slammed into the other tower, causing a massive fireball. This couldn’t be a coincidence. Two planes crashing into two of the tallest buildings in New York within a few minutes of each other doesn’t just happen by accident. By this time it was getting time for me to start preparing for my work day, as Seattle is 3 hours behind New York due to time zones. I took a small radio into the bathroom to listen while I prepared and prayed desperately. The radio announcer related that a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon. We later learned that a fourth plane crashed in a field near Pittsburgh, as the passengers tackled the hijackers.

American Airlines Flight, over the North Atlantic

Meanwhile, an American Airlines plane was flying westbound over the Atlantic Ocean, en route from Paris to Dallas. Captain Beverley Bass got word on their air to air radio frequency that the towers had been hit, and New York airspace was closed. The airspace for the entire country was closed soon after. They knew then that they would need to divert to Canada, initially considering Toronto or Montreal. They then got word that a remote area would be wiser in case something happened, so they were ordered to land in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland.

Air France, over the North Atlantic

The plane bound from Paris to Newark suddenly dropped in elevation, and passenger Kevin Tuerff, accustomed to flying, looked up at the GPS map on the ceiling of their jumbo jet. He wondered why they were suddenly flying due north rather than due west. Were they flying to the North Pole?

Continental Airlines, over the Atlantic

The flight was bound from Gatwick, England to Houston, Texas. Diane was returning home from visiting her son Mike and his family, stationed in the US Air Force in the UK. On the same flight was an oil industry professional named Nick, whose business took him to Houston. Neither of them knew that tragedy would bring together two strangers from opposite sides of the ocean.

Gander, Newfoundland

Gander Academy French immersion teacher Diane Davis heard of the attacks that morning. She went home for lunch and watched live as the towers fell. She would return to school to teach that afternoon. Her colleagues asked her to help mobilize help, possibly preparing food, and she readily volunteered as a point person for staff. With a staff phone list in hand, she registered with the town of Gander, telling them she had about 50 names and could probably count on half of them helping out. They moved desks and set up computers in the front at three schools, starting with the local high school. By the time they got to Gander Academy, they had about 100 volunteers setting up. After being up for 72 hours straight, she was ordered home to rest. She slept three hours and went back to work. By that time, they had 770 people who needed help.

As the people of Gander prepared, so did the nearby towns of Appleton, Glenwood, Lewisporte, Norris Arm and Gambo. Six towns got ready to welcome thousands of people diverted to Newfoundland. Janice Young, a nurse from Lewisporte, worked 12-hour shifts to help people in need. Members of the local media, including Janice Goudie and Brian Mosher, would work tirelessly over the next few days, splitting their time between reporting the news and bringing aid to those who needed it.

“The world changed today, for the worse. Our flight from Paris to New York missed an international terrorist disaster in New York and Washington, DC. (Hijacked planes crashed into WTC & Pentagon. We’ve been sitting on our plane now for 12 hours (7 now on the ground). All we can do is wait patiently for news about the tragedy, for a place to try to talk to our families. We’ve been told we may have to sleep here overnight (on board). We are fortunate to be alive. Many on the plane cried when we heard the news. Everyone is shell-shocked. No one can imagine what is next regarding our national security. Who can we trust now? Will this heinous crime start a war? All we can do is pray. P.S. Just learned we will soon depart plane and perhaps spend night in school here. At least 30 planes here waiting with stranded passengers aboard.”

So wrote Kevin Tuerff on his in-flight menu, having landed at Gander Airport. He was travelling with his partner, also named Kevin. Very few people had working phones on the plane, though Tuerff was able to attempt making calls from a first-class seat that someone in first class graciously allowed him to use. He didn’t get through because most people in the US were calling each other to make sure everyone was all right. He finally got through to a friend in Amsterdam, who was able to fill him in on what he had heard on the news. He then went back to their seat and told everyone what he had found out. Between trying to call out, watching Shrek twice, and dealing with an upset passenger behind them (Kevin J. offered her some medication for her nerves, which she declined), they passed the long hours. Their plane was on the tarmac for 15 hours before they were finally allowed to deplane, one of the first of the 38 planes, containing a combined total of 6,579 passengers. They had to leave their checked luggage on the plane, so they were only allowed their carry-on items. So Kevin and Kevin had only their bags containing cameras, passports and two bottles of Grey Goose vodka that Kevin J. had managed to procure in Paris.

In his book Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11, Kevin relates what happened when they left the plane. Security at the airport was tight. Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were stationed there. (As another character in the musical comments, “There were soldiers everywhere.”) They went through immigration and customs, and Kevin says, “And that’s when the first wave of unconditional love hit us: the terminal was filled with volunteers greeting us as we registered. It was like we had walked into a party!” The people of Gander had stepped up and provided help and food for their thousands of guests. People had homemade baked food, chicken from KFC, and everything in between. Kevin managed to find a pay phone and call his parents, but had to go, as his ride was there. He watched people at the airport put “Out of Order” signs on the phones so they could get people to the places they were to stay.

Captain Bass’s plane deplaned early the morning of September 12, having been on the plane for 28 hours. She tells me that they “walked into the terminal building in Gander. I was shocked to see all of the food that had been prepared for the nearly 7k passengers and crew members. It was evident the folks of Gander and the surrounding communities had stayed up all night preparing and cooking for all of us. It was so heartwarming. During our 5 days there nearly 285,000 meals were served to the come from aways…as they call folks who are not from Newfoundland.”

The come from aways were housed all over Gander and the surrounding communities. Beverley Bass and her crew stayed at Gander’s Comfort Inn. She mainly stayed put at the inn, as she did not have a cell phone at the time and she needed to know right away if they were ready to leave. Kevin and Kevin were among a large group housed at the College of the North Atlantic. A Ganderite teenager gave them an air mattress, and it deflated the first night. The Society of United Fishermen Hall in nearby Gambo welcomed Nick, Diane, and the other passengers from their plane. Janice Young of Lewisporte hosted a couple British women in her home and helped out at a local church. Gander resident Beulah Cooper aided passengers from an Irish Aer Lingus flight, and filled four rooms of her house with passengers. The people of Newfoundland welcomed strangers into their schools, churches, businesses and homes with open arms. As Mayor Claude Elliott points out in his foreword to Kevin Tuerff’s Channel of Peace, they came from over three dozen countries. (Kevin tells me there were people from more than 90 countries.)

Among the passengers on the Aer Lingus flight was a couple named Dennis and Hannah O’Rourke, returning to New York from visiting Ireland. Beulah Cooper helped them as they desperately attempted to contact their son Kevin, a firefighter back home in New York. She developed a friendship with Hannah, which would be invaluable later when the O’Rourkes arrived home and found that their son didn’t make it. His name is inscribed on the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero:

Photo by Jodi Parks Disario. Used with permission.

Photo by Jodi Parks Disario. Used with permission.

Diane Davis tells me, “As one of hundreds who helped at the school, I fell into an organizational role. I helped with general information in the office of the school for passengers. Like others, I helped passengers make international phone calls, I did announcements and took notes for Captain Burgess when he met his flight. I organized bulletin boards for communication for each flight and helped to answer questions. Other teachers organized food and clothing. Some planned games and activities for children. Some took people home for showers, to sleep, or for laundry. We did not do things that were out of our skill set or extraordinary. We did the same thing we would do for anyone needing help. What is remarkable is how many need help and how many came to give it in the most basic of ways. Food, clothing, a drive somewhere, use of a phone.”

Kevin Tuerff relates that wherever they went in Gander, strangers stopped and offered to drive them to their destination. Others had similar experiences.

Stop the World!

On September 13, as Nick and Diane had been getting acquainted, they decided to take a gander (pun intended) at the nearby Dover Fault. Nick brought his camera, which he pulled out at the lookout. Diane suggested getting out of the way so he could photograph the beautiful scenery, but she didn’t realize that he was more interested in her than the scenery. With this single photograph, he “stopped the world” and preserved a memory that would be a turning point in their lives:

Photo by Nick Marson. Used with Permssion

Photo by Nick Marson. Used with Permssion

They would return a year later, on their honeymoon, and again in 2017 when the town of Dover updated the plaque at the lookout with their story:

Photos by Nick and Diane Marson. Used with permission.

“What Was That Ungodly Screech?!”

During that time, some of the come from aways were “screeched in.” Kevin Tuerff would not have this privilege until 2011 at the 10-year celebration, and his (now former) partner would be screeched in later. The musical explained some of the background behind the Screech In ceremony, but I was still curious about it and asked Diane Davis. She tells me, “The Screech In had many variations. A Google search will get you some info but the Screech is a rum based drink that harkens back to when our salt fish was shipped to Jamaica and the ships came back with rum and molasses. It’s a bit of fun and when well done, it’s a good laugh. Kissing the cod is perhaps similar to the effort it takes to kiss the Blarney Stone in Ireland. You really need to want it bad to do it. I love the Screech In song. Another song of the musical genius of Sankoff and Hein. Folks will be thinking it’s a traditional song.”

Departure, Tributes and Reflection

After five days in Newfoundland, the planes were finally allowed to leave. Kevin’s Air France flight returned to France, and they found themselves stranded once again, this time in Paris. At the airport, they witnessed a deeply moving show of support there and on the TVs as Europe came to a standstill, cars stopping on the road and people getting out of their cars to observe a moment of silence for the people of America. Europeans stopped what they were doing and stood at attention as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played.

For Diane Davis, “The most moving experience for me was helping to count money from a donation box to put it in the school safe. We were exhausted and my vice principal and I began to cry. There were so many denominations from 4 aircrafts that we had to sort it by colour first to try to recognize currencies. There were 2 personal cheques for 1000 made to Gander Academy. When I see the scene of the collection on the aircraft and the passenger writes a cheque, I cry. We were overwhelmed with the gratitude of passengers. I still am by the hugs from strangers.”

A grateful American businessman welcomed by the town of Lewisporte took up a collection to fund scholarships for students there. It lasted for years, and both of Janice Young’s daughters benefitted from it.

Come From Away

Years later, the 10-year celebration and the musical Come From Away would serve to bring many people together. Mayor Claude Elliott met Kevin Tuerff at the celebration. Beulah Cooper and Diane Davis met when they learned that they had been combined into a single character named Beulah Davis for the musical. (They laughed about having never met before that.) Sankoff and Hein combined reporters Janice Goudie of the Gander Beacon newspaper and Brian Mosher of Rogers Cable into one person named Janice Mosher.

Kevin Tuerff finds the song “Prayer” from the musical particularly moving. He tells me that the “Most moving part of Come From Away for me is the song, “Prayer”, based in part on the Christian hymn “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.”  I’d always loved that hymn. It had played in my head for days after 9/11, and was sometimes the only consolation when I would see the continuous loop of TV footage of planes crashing into the World Trade Center. Its lyrics were on my heart when I attended Mass at Notre Dame in Paris on September 16th, 2001. The first time I heard it, I immediately started crying. I never remembered telling the writers about this, Air France lied to us, saying we would leave Gander for New York, but instead they flew us back to Paris. We should’ve just stayed with the kind people in Gander!”

I must say I concur with his assessment of the song. The first time I heard it, I was in tears. I love the combined Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu prayers, in addition to multiple languages in one song, all praying for the same thing: Peace (Shalom in Hebrew, Shaantih in Hindi) and praise to God (Allah in Arabic).

Response

Kevin founded an environmental marketing firm called EnviroMedia in 1997, and after his experiences in Gander, he started a new initiative called Pay It Forward 9/11. You can learn more about it at www.payitforward911.org. Basically, as described in the musical, every year on 9/11, he distributes $100 to groups of his employees and sends them out to do random good deeds for strangers. In this way he hopes to remember the horrific acts of 9/11 and the incredible selfless outpouring of love he was shown by strangers in Gander. He describes some of the truly moving deeds his employees have done in his book. In this way he hopes to combat xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia and racism and replace them with compassion. He calls it a “jump start to the heart.” I highly recommend ordering his book Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11 on Amazon. I now own it in audiobook form (read by the author), as well as Kindle and the physical book. In addition to his story in Gander, and that of many of the others mentioned in the musical, he includes practical tips about how you can do good deeds for strangers. (You can also view the tips on the website for free.) It doesn’t have to be expensive, but he has seen lives changed for the better by some of the simple acts performed.

Similarly, since her retirement from teaching, Diane Davis has been instrumental in helping displaced Syrian refugees in Gander. Kevin Tuerff recently moved to New York so he can help his church to welcome immigrants and refugees there. Beverley Bass enjoys picking up the tab for first responders and others at restaurants. She paid airfare for the family of a member of Come from Away’s band when their homes in Dominica were destroyed in Hurricane Maria. Last summer she took her family to Newfoundland and personally thanked every mayor of every town that helped out. According to Nick and Diane Marson, “It has renewed our faith in humanity and given us a new family. It certainly changed Nick’s life, he threw his life up in the air, moved to Texas and married Diane. Sounds easy, but it wasn’t!”

Accuracy and Repeat Viewings

One thing I asked everyone I interviewed was how accurate their characters were represented in the musical Come From Away. The consensus was that they were very accurate. As mentioned above, some characters were combinations of two people. Kevin Tuerff told me that “The Kevins” actually lived in Austin, Texas rather than Los Angeles. Sankoff and Hein made this change so that they wouldn’t have “too many Texans” in the musical. (He also mentions in his book that they did not go to the Legion for a drink while stranded in Gander, and they were not Screeched In until years later). Nick and Diane Marson pointed out that they made some minor changes to put everyone in one airplane and one shelter. Beverley Bass is deeply impressed with the way she is portrayed. She tells me that Jenn Colella is an ideal actress to play her. “First of all, she is adorable and has the most amazing voice. She belts out ‘Me and the Sky’ which is my aviation life compacted into a 4:19 second solo, the only solo in the show. Her body language and everything is just the way that I am. We both have similar haircuts and she used to have blonde hair like me, but has decided to let it go natural and is no longer blonde.” Diane Davis tells me that she personally observed most of what happened in the musical, and it brings back the memories of those events actually happening.

Another thing I asked everyone was how many times they have seen the musical. I believe Beverley Bass holds the record at 106 times as of the time she responded to my questions. Diane Davis hasn’t counted, but she believes it has been at least a dozen times, in Gander, Toronto, New York City and Winnipeg. It makes her cry every time. Kevin Tuerff recently attended his 26th performance over the course of five years, with his nephew and an African friend who was recently granted asylum in the US. Nick and Diane Marson are at second place among the people I interviewed, at 75 times in six cities and two countries. They tell me it is rewarding to show people who are older and yet have not found their “special someone” that there is still hope. Nick and Diane were “both into middle age, not 20 somethings” when they met. They also feel it is like renewing their vows every time they see the musical

Relating to Come From Away

One thing I love about Come From Away is how much I can identify with it. I grew up in the Philippines, but I currently live in the Seattle area. I have also lived in Hong Kong and Montana. Having lived on opposite sides of the Pacific, I often feel like a come from away wherever I go. (“Where are you from?” is a complicated question for me.) In addition, I distinctly remember the events of 9/11. I remember the uncertainty of what would happen. That horrible morning, the hits kept coming. A plane hit one tower. A plane hit the other tower. A plane hit the Pentagon. A plane likely bound for the White House crashed in a field near Pittsburgh. Where would the next plane hit? After I got to work in a Seattle highrise that morning, I wondered if it would hit our building. Would a plane crash into the Space Needle? Our employer gave us the option of going home just in case. I decided that, worst case scenario, a plane would hit our building, and I would be killed and go to heaven. Heaven didn’t sound so bad right then. When I listened to the cast recording of the musical years later, it brought back those memories and left me in tears.

With that in mind, I also asked everyone if there was a way they could relate to the musical like I could.

Diane Davis shared that “9/11 was the hardest I worked ever to do something good, to volunteer, to be a contributing citizen. I am also on Gander Refugee Outreach Committee now and the time and energy involved in welcoming 4 Syrian families to Gander has renewed and polished all those citizen skills. Part of teaching our families was telling them the story of 9/11 and again, David and Irene selected stories that emphasize inclusion, compassion, empathy and community. For me though, the memory that always strikes me is the passengers seeing it on TV for the first time and when I see it on stage I cry. It’s the sense of helplessness, no matter how willing we were, that there was nothing we could do to make this not true or better.”

Nick and Diane Marson tell me, “As we travel to other cities where the show opens, and meet so many new people, we feel like we still are come from aways. One of our favorite aspects of the show is meeting new people and sharing stories with them.”

Kevin Tuerff says, “As a gay Catholic, I know what it’s like to be marginalized. When I see the scene when the Muslim man (Ali) is scared because of how others are treating him simply because of his religion, it makes me sad. No doubt there was tremendous anxiety about who was a terrorist because the ones who hijacked the planes came from Muslim countries. But they were extremists who disobeyed their own religion. Virtually every religion in the world has one common teaching: The Golden Rule­–Treat others as you want to be treated. I hope as Come From Away goes on tour around the world, people are reminded of this, and take their experience in the theater and incorporate it into their daily lives.”

Tips for Visiting Newfoundland

Another question I asked everyone was where they would recommend going when visiting Newfoundland.

In addition to Gander, Beverley Bass recommends visiting Gambo and Lewisporte, as well as the other “adorable little towns” in the area. As far as restaurants in Gander, she recommends Bistro on the Roe, Rosie’s, and The Gander Bread Box Bakery & Café. “Everyone is so incredibly nice that you really never want to leave.”

Diane Davis says, “There is a Beyond Words bus tour that will take visitors to the various sites around Gander and does a great job of telling Gander’s 9/11 and aviation history. I like to make sure people see Gander Heritage Memorial Park and read some of the letters at the town hall in Gander. I also recommend the Peace Park in Appleton and visiting all the town halls in the communities where passengers were housed. Gander, Appleton, Glenwood, Lewisporte, Norris Arm and Gambo. Everyone should visit the Dover Fault and sing “Stop the World” too.”

Kevin Tuerff says, “The best place to start a tour of Gander is at the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. They offer a seasons tour of the Gander International airport and several scenes in Come From Away called Beyond Words. I recently took a self-driving tour of other beautiful town across Newfoundland from Maxxim Vacations, called the Come From Away Experience. The island has absolutely stunning beauty and remarkably kind people.”

Nick and Diane Marson have a rather unsurprising yet exciting suggestion: “Do we ever! Of course we like to see our Newfie families, but ….   Our visit to Dover Fault on Sept. 13th, 2001 highlighted the budding feelings between us…Nick wanted a photo of Diane, not the beautiful scenery, so that meant he was as interested in me as I was in him...  It is the “Stop the world” moment in our lives and is portrayed as such in the play.”

Go See Come From Away!

Come From Away is currently playing on Broadway and Toronto. The musical is kicking off its national tour in Seattle in October. (I can’t wait!) The tour is currently slated for Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Costa Mesa, Las Vegas, Portland (Oregon), Vancouver (British Columbia), Edmonton, Calgary, Omaha, Appleton (Wisconsin), Pittsburgh, Greenville, Baltimore, Hartford, Milwaukee, St. Louis, New Orleans, Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago and Ottawa. The show also opens in Melbourne, Australia in July 2019. Tickets are now on sale for the Dublin production, and it runs in London starting January 20, 2019. Tickets are now on sale there as well.

The show lasts 100 minutes, and there is no intermission. It is recommended for ages 10 and up.

You can get more information on the musical’s website, www.comefromaway.com. I also highly recommend visiting www.payitforward911.org for ways you can help spread the kindness that the people of Newfoundland showed to strangers.

Grief and Depression: How Theatre Pulled Me Through

SarahLynn Mangan

Everyone is told their life is going to be a roller coaster and you won't get anything out of it unless you just keep riding and moving forward, I have found this to be very true.

As a young child life was wonderful, I had four amazing older siblings and two wonderful parents. We were all into performing arts either being on the stage dancing in ballet, singing at school shows or performing in theatre camps. Especially two of my older sisters and I as we are the closest in age, (my brother being twelve years older than me and my other sister eighteen years older than me). Our parents were very supportive and were known to always be willing to get us to rehearsal, give us flowers after performances, provide food for cast members and help backstage. We were known as the family that always wanted to be working in a theatre.

Unfortunately, just twenty days after my tenth birthday my father passed away. He had a disease known as ALS or as I like to tell people “that disease that the ice bucket challenge was for.” He was diagnosed when I was seven and died in his sleep just under two and a half years later. I am grateful that he was no longer a brain trapped inside a paralyzed body- the disease does not affect the brain but rather shuts down every other motor function within the body-so I was happy to see him finally released to serenity but also was reminded of all the things that a daughter typically does with her father.  He will never me down the aisle when I get married to someone I love, never intimidate the people I date, and most importantly to me was that he would never be able to see me nor my other siblings perform again.

I recently stumbled upon my father’s old blog that he used to document his life with the disease and at one point he had written “I really want to beat this thing that is trying to take me before my girls have a chance to grow up” and “I would like to live to see the rest of my daughters and son married, and to see my daughters at least graduate from High School” unfortunately he never even got to see me graduate elementary school.

My entire family had hoped he would have lived just four days longer so he would at least be able to see my sisters and I in our summer ballet performance, but that was not the case. So instead we were told to perform to the best of our abilities and dedicate it to our father. This I did so without delay and wholeheartedly, for I believed he could watch us and that he would be proud to have called me his daughter.

After that performance, we all quit dancing and performing to be able to grief.

That was my first mistake.

I knew that performing was my passion ever since taking my first step out into the lights as a little bon-bon in The Nutcracker and I knew it was an outlet. When something tragic happens to someone so young, they don’t know how to process it and neither did I.

After taking the summer off I jumped back into theatre with being cast as Suzi Spider in Tiny Thumbelina in my fifth-grade musical at my expressive arts elementary school. I continued to participate in theatre camp shows as well, but I knew something was missing from my performances and that I was slowly but surely retracting from my extroverted self who would start singing and dancing musicals anytime I deemed it necessary (which was always).

Almost a year after my father's passing I was given the opportunity to be in my first community theatre production. I was ecstatic because I knew that if I could do this I would be able to show my father he could still be proud of me. I was a part of the youth ensemble for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and in this production, the rehearsal process was quick, we hardly interacted with the adults, and were on stage for the entire show except for “Potiphar.” I remember on opening night I was dancing downstage center in the song “Go Go Go Joseph” and I started to tear up because I felt as though my father was somehow watching me and applauding me on.

After that production, I truly felt as though I would go back to normal, I got confidence back and was ready to continue in life. I had found a way to still feel connected to my father and not feel so alone in my journey of processing my grief.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Tacoma Musical Playhouse 2012    Photo courtesy of Kat Dollarhide    

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Tacoma Musical Playhouse 2012

Photo courtesy of Kat Dollarhide

 

Skip forward a few years in life and I had become deeply depressed. I went to a middle school that was promised to be getting a great performing arts program but after my sixth-grade year, dance, theatre, and choir were all taken away because funding for the programs had fallen through. With my mom now being the households only income and still taking care of three children (one soon to go on to college) we didn’t have the money to do all the theatre camps that I had become a regular attendee at.

I was too scared to tell my mother or even my family about my depression which didn’t help me with feeling valid for my emotions. Everyone who states that they have depression are doubted until they have the doctor's diagnosis. I also didn’t want to admit to failure of living the best life I could in honor of my father, but I knew things would just get worse if I didn’t find a way to cope.

When I entered high school, it had gotten so bad that the only ways I would find relief of my depression was from being an unhealthy person, telling myself that it was my fault my father had died, and doing many regrettable and stupid things, (but that is for another day).

My sophomore year had come around and rumors in my family had been spread around about my depression and unhealthy lifestyle, but no one believed it because I only showed who I used to be to the world and not who I had become. No one believed it until my mother found me crying in the bathroom before school one day. She finally made an appointment and brought me to the doctors.

I got diagnosed with clinical depression and was put on antidepressants and encouraged to seek therapy (however therapy did not seem like a feasible thing due to the expense and inability to connect with a therapist). After four weeks when they finally started working, everyone could tell. I was more flamboyant and always singing and dancing to show-tunes just like my younger self.

However, during this time of healing, my grades were suffering and the possibility of graduating in two years was slipping away before my eyes. I failed two classes which meant I had to spend my summer in school to try and get my credits back. Many of my friends I had made in choir and old theatre friends were going to do a summer theatre camp that I used to attend and would have attended if I could have. When I saw their performance, I wanted to cry because all I wanted to do was be on the stage with them.

At that moment, I decided that it was time for me to get back into the theatre scene and make my mark again. I auditioned for the play “Blithe Spirit” which was going to be put on at a local community theatre and directed by someone who had helped first spark my interest in theatre all together. When I got the call that I would be playing the maid Edith I started screaming of happiness before I even hung up (the stage manager and I laughed about it later because she clearly heard me screaming for joy). I was finally going to be back on the stage and with people who are highly thought of in the theatre scene in my county.

When rehearsals started, I knew that those people and that show would be the show to truly bring me out of my depression. I had a schedule, people who relied on me, and a family who believed in me. That theatre experience was what finally helped me achieve my goal of being a healthy person who didn’t have to rely on supplements to be able to live a semi normal life.

The cast of Blithe Spirit at Tacoma Little Theatre 2017

The cast of Blithe Spirit at Tacoma Little Theatre 2017

It has now been five months since that show closed and I am currently performing in my third community theatre production and in rehearsals for my fourth of my junior year of high school. I reconnected with my old drama teacher in elementary school and assistant directed her production of “Charlotte’s Web” at my old school. I have also been accepted into a performing arts college (yet to decide if I will attend due to financial and such), and am exploring other options for college.

Although it may not seem like such a major triumph to some people, I have had the ability to discover myself again and be the person everyone knows I am again because of theatre and it is truly remarkable. It has always been there and will always be there as a reminder of the first time I felt a connection with my father after his death and the first time I felt free to be myself and come back out of depression again.