Theatre – a culture where emotion, struggle, and connection are the messages that are brought to life from the depths of every wonderful storyteller. Thespians put their heart and soul into delivering raw human experiences in such a pure form uninhibited by society’s standards. Laying these bits of humanity at the audience’s feet allows individuals to connect, empathize, and struggle right along with the characters. Here, emotion and struggle is accepted, but once we step foot out of the theater…
Why is it no longer ok?
Why do we have to hide or water down our experiences?
Why can’t we sit with someone in their struggle as we do with the characters?
When does it become too real?
There are many lessons we can learn from the epic stories that are shared with us in the theater.
Most characters will encounter a great struggle. In the depths of their journey they too may feel there is no end in sight, no rest for the wicked, and no one who truly understands. We don’t see them hiding their emotions and burying their hardships. Instead we see them meeting them head on and doing whatever needs to be done to honor their struggle but never get stuck in it.
If we can learn to take care of ourselves in the midst of struggle, we will build our resilience to cope during these difficult journeys and we are able to better handle the adversity in front of us.
Moments of despair can feel never ending at times, and even though we may enjoy belting out our favorite heartbroken ballads, it somehow doesn’t feel as graceful as that in real life. People speak about perseverance as though it is always driven by strength, passion, and the unwavering drive forward. In reality, it’s not always that bold.
Sometimes it’s just quietly refusing to give up, or ensuring that you have the support needed to help you through this difficult journey.
Great stories expand our horizons and show us that support, love, and acceptance can be found in some of the most unlikely of places. It is simple to look right in front of us for what we feel is right and comfortable, but that’s not always where we find our best supporters. Sometimes our biggest support can be a loyal animal, an inspiring stranger, or a misunderstood enemy.
It is when we reach deep into our souls that we can start to see what and who we really need in our lives to help us become the best versions of ourselves.
Along with struggle, theater also celebrates strength. A human experience that doesn’t always come easily and takes some effort, passion, and hope. Think back on some of your favorite plays and musicals. When thinking about the character’s struggles, can you place your finger on at least one thing that kept them hopeful? Touchstones they come back to in times of need, giving them strength to continue moving forward in their journey.
Our feelings of hope have so much connection to our strength. Whether it be an item, a place, or a person, just the thought, sight, or touch of them can center you and remind you of the immense strength you hold inside of you. Keep these touchstones close.
So many struggles come about from not feeling “normal,” accepted, and like “them”, but as the characters find out at some pivotal point along their journey, isn’t our individuality what makes us all interesting and original? We all celebrate with them at the end of the story as they stop hiding who they are and start using their uniqueness and individuality to help others and enjoy life to the fullest. We see them thriving, loving, happy, and connected. It gives us a sense of calm and contentedness so we can feel good letting that chapter close.
What if we didn’t have to wait until “the end” to realize that we have something special to offer the world and we will do it in our own time and with our own flare? It would not end all of our struggles, but it has the opportunity to make it a much more enjoyable journey.
Don’t ignore or be afraid of your individual signs of struggle. Instead, choose to stare them in the face and …
- Connect with your support system, they are the rocks we need to learn to lean on during difficult journeys and someday, they may need our help too.
- Don’t be ashamed to seek help when you need it. It’s not always easy to ask for help, so actively seeking it is actually a sign of strength, not weakness.
- Be mindful of any self-medication (alcohol, drugs, excessive or lack of eating, excessive exercising, risky behaviors, gambling, excessive spending, etc.)
- Remember that you can’t pour from an empty glass. As much as we may feel drawn to helping others, we need to care for ourselves first so we are rejuvenated enough to care for others responsibly. Find your self care outlet(s) and stick to them!
- Know that you are the only one who can make the changes necessary to become the best version of you. Don’t let this fact be a burden but rather a badge of strength as you slowly gain control of your actions, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Seek supports who will help you wear your badge proudly!
Kiri Meyer MS, LPC, NCC
To recognize May as Mental Health Month, NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) is running an awareness campaign. The Green Ribbon Campaign piloted in 2013, in New York, as an anti-stigma initiative designed to facilitate open and honest dialogue about the topic of mental health in our communities. NAMI | Waukesha has many resources and events for those struggling with mental illness and those who wish to know more and support friends and family with mental illness. It is a nonprofit organization that provides free education, support, and advocacy to community members affected by mental health conditions.
WCT is partnering with NAMI | Waukesha by putting up green ribbons, and posting flyers about mental health for the month. We will also be running a series of articles on our blog about mental health and the arts, as well as using the hashtag #mentalhealthmatters in our social media posts. Stay tuned!
We are involved in this campaign as a way to be active in our community and to promote the well-being of all our community members. The goal of this campaign is to raise awareness of the prevalence of mental illness, work to erase the stigma associated with mental illness, and start conversations that could, ultimately, save lives.
Verisimilitude is a term often associated with theatrical productions. It is defined as “the appearance of being true or real.” For me, plays need to contain a similarity to truth which helps the play be relatable for the audience. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if it perfectly resembles reality, but suggests it enough for each individual audience member to build off the verisimilitude by filling in the gaps themselves.
While I was studying 33 Variations in advance of our rehearsal process, it was clear to me that verisimilitude would not be enough for a character who has ALS that would progressively get worse as the play went along. An accurate portrayal of the physical and vocal impediments of this debilitating disease would be vital. Having never personally experienced ALS, I knew that I would need to connect with those who had.
By day, I work at the Medical College of Wisconsin. In partnership with Froedtert Hospital, there is an ALS Clinic located right here in Milwaukee that is one of only 26 in the United States to be certified by the ALS Association. I was able to connect with the physicians who work in the clinic, who then connected me with the Wisconsin chapter of the ALS Association.
The individuals who work there were tremendous. They fully supported our efforts to learn more about ALS and to create an accurate picture of the disease. They invited us to attend an ALS support group meeting to talk about the show and to allow us to observe and interact with ALS patients. Two actresses, Beth Perry and Paula Garcia, and I were privileged to attend. As Beth portrays the ALS patient in the play, this time of interaction was invaluable.
They also lent us a rolling walker for use in the show and a physical therapist came to a rehearsal to help us accurately stage a scene that revolves around physical therapy. Their enthusiasm and willingness to assist our production has been greatly appreciated.
To return that appreciation, we’ve arranged for ALS literature and a donation box to be available in the lobby during the run of the show. ALS research is heavily reliant on private donations. The ice bucket challenges from a few years ago certainly helped raise awareness and donations but more help is needed. I know they will be thankful for any amount you would be willing to give.
In addition, representatives from the ALS Association Wisconsin Chapter and the Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin ALS Clinic will join the cast and crew for talk backs immediately following the performances on March 12 at 2:00 pm and March 19 at 2:00 pm.
I hope you will come out to see this fantastically theatrical and powerful show. It is one that you will not soon forget.