Monday, November 2, 2009

Jessica Interviews Oriana

Following up last week's post, this week outreach director Jessica Mondres interviewed communications director Oriana Fowler (pictured below), with the goal of letting you get to know Oriana better.


Jessica: Hey Oriana!

Oriana: Hey Jessica!

Jessica: I’m really glad we could meet to talk today, because I’m excited to learn more about you. I wanted to start by asking you how you became involved in the world of theatre and performance.

Oriana: Hmm. Well, I did a theatre camp when I was maybe 12 -- Summer Theatre Lab down at University of Chicago, and that was really fun. I did work with About Face Youth Theatre, so I'd been exposed to being in the theatre and making shows. But then I didn’t really do any theatre after that, like I wasn’t in my high school theatre.

So then I was a teenager and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to major in—like every person who actually has no idea what they want to major in—I was looking at DePaul University because I really liked the school. I came across theatre management as a degree and something just clicked. The courses all seemed really interesting. I imagined being able to use some of my communication skills and creativity, but also really develop some of my organizational and leadership skills all in one. So it clicked, and…and luckily it’s still clicking! And now I can’t imagine a life without the arts.

Jessica: Cool. I’m glad you’re in the arts too.

Oriana: Thanks.

Jessica: You’re welcome. So how did you find out about ETD and how did you become a member of the staff?

Oriana: Through somebody I knew, a colleague of mine -- Elizabeth Finlayson, who is on the board of directors of Erasing the Distance. She passed along a job posting letting me know that Erasing the Distance was hiring, and that I might be really great for this organization. So I checked it out, and it sounded really really neat. I met with Brighid, and we ended up figuring out that it was a good fit, and I was offered the position. And now…Elizabeth is still on our board, and its nice to see how that personal connection has grown.

Jessica: Seems like a lot of what ETD does is through people they know, that personal connection.

Oriana: Yes, it is.

Jessica: So now that you have been part of the organization for about a year I’m interested to know why is it do you think that ETD’s method and mission work?

Oriana: Well, we use theatre to talk about mental illness. And I think the format of using theatre is really effective because mental illness can be sort of a complicated thing to understand, it’s a little bit different with everybody. You can read lists of signs and symptoms, you can read statistics and be kind of wowed by those; but it doesn’t necessarily give you the human side, the personal side. I think that by using theatre to show people’s own true stories, we’re able to get in some of those facts while also showing the personal story. So we are able to touch people’s hearts and their minds at the same time—and process a lot of information in a more easily digestible way.

Jessica: That makes sense to me. Has there been a moment in your work with ETD that has stood out to you as letting you know, yeah what we’re doing is working, and we’re reaching people.


Oriana: Definitely. One of my favorite parts is when I first get to tell somebody what I do, and what Erasing the Distance does, and I get to watch that light of recognition in that person’s eyes. It’s just the coolest thing because….a person will respond and be like, “Wow, I have never heard of anything like that, that is so amazing” -- and it’s just incredible to see sort of the…the well open up. There is this
unspoken need that as soon as I say “We use theatre to talk about mental illness, to disarm stigma” people really connect with it. You can really see that the need is there and people are really excited about it. I love that.

Another thing that I really love is seeing the discussions after the show. After the performance we always have a dialogue, and people really genuinely ask sincere curious questions about what they saw on stage. That’s also really cool because you have this room full of people that may or may not know each other, and people really open up. It’s really amazing actually. Sometimes people will self disclose about mental illness in themselves or people they love and we’re able to…it’s just like our mission in action: disarming stigma and generating awareness about mental illness. It is so refreshing to see people talking about something that, you know, just often unfortunately gets silenced.

Jessica: That’s really cool, it is kind of amazing.


Oriana: It is. It’s really neat to see how one person can make a difference. I think our organization really allows that in a pretty profound way. 
So, one person might be responsible for bringing us to their school. And because you stepped forward and said “Hey, I know somebody that might be able to help get you into this community: into this high school, into this college, into this church to do a performance; let me introduce you and make that connection.” Our audience at a high school might be 1500 people. So because of that one person we can reach 1500 youth and talk to them about mental illness and I think that is a really empowering thing that our organization does. So come talk to us.


Jessica: That’s a really great point—I’m really glad you said that, that’s a good thing to keep in mind and I’m glad our readers are going to hear it! It is always wonderful to remember that one person actually can make a big difference to their communities in that way.
Well, I just have one more question; and that is what’s coming up for ETD? What’s new?


Oriana: Gosh…we’re keeping so busy! We’re getting a lot of repeat customers this year, a lot of schools that we went to last year we’re going back to this year and we’re getting a lot of new inquiries. More and more people want to participate in what we do and want to bring the dialogue to them and…and so I think we’re just trying to meet that demand and ah so…call us now, before we book up!

You know… as more and more people in Chicago see Erasing the Distance, and learn a little bit more about what mental illness really is and how, you know, it really affects all of us… I hope that one day we can have a mental illness awareness month that is truly huge. Like right now, with breast cancer awareness, there’s pink everywhere you know? Stores are selling pink M&M’s and the referees in all the football games are wearing pink wristbands and, um, I think we need to get to that level with mental illness.

Jessica: Yeah! That is a great point and I think a great way to end our conversation. Thanks Oriana.


Oriana: Thanks Jessica.


And thanks for reading!

2 comments:

  1. >>You can read lists of signs and symptoms, you can read statistics and be kind of wowed by those; but it doesn’t necessarily give you the human side, the personal side. I think that by using theatre to show people’s own true stories, we’re able to get in some of those facts while also showing the personal story. So we are able to touch people’s hearts and their minds at the same time—and process a lot of information in a more easily digestible way.<<

    This is very spot-on and well-put. I think one of the things that tends to make mental illness so much more complicated to address on a larger scale is that, until recently, the only public face it really had was basically lists of signs, symptoms, and statistics. The language used in the past has usually been such that it doesn't really allow a person to connect with it - especially if they themselves don't have any personal experience with mental illness (their own or someone they know), because descriptions have typically been academic/medical.

    And that's not just a benefit in terms of how it allows for a much higher chance of connecting with and educating people who aren't familiar with mental illness. It can really mean the difference between someone being able to identify a condition in themselves or missing it because they don't make that connection.

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  2. Thanks Lis. That's really a great point. I hope you can make it out to one of our shows to see the way theater makes the connection first hand. Check out our calendar page on our website - www.erasingthedistance.org - and if you live in the area, come on by and introduce yourself.

    ~Brighid
    Executive Artistic Director

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