Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Finding Peace in This House: Matthew

After premiering at the Chicago Cultural Center in June 2011, Erasing the Distance (ETD) is thrilled to open our inaugural artistic season with Finding Peace in This House, a powerful play created in partnership with The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (TCSPP). TCSPP graduate students conducted, transcribed, and edited interviews from individuals affected by various mental health issues, and those interviews ultimately became the six theatrical monologues that are featured in the show.

In anticipation of Finding Peace in This House's opening on January 23rd, 2012, we are running a six-week series of blog posts that highlight different stories from the play. Today, we focus on Matthew.

Matthew is a college student, award-winning slam poet, and self-described "computer god" who was born with cerebral palsy. Matthew talks about how CP has affected his life as he recounts his struggles with depression, acceptance, and finding love. Here are a few words from the three people who helped craft this piece for the stage.

Matthew (Story Teller)
Simply put, sharing my story with ETD was both life-changing and inspiring. I wasn't really sure what to expect going into the interview, and I don't think any mental preparation or instruction would have helped or been fair to the story. I knew I had been through struggles, we all have, and we have all survived in our own ways. However, I failed to realize that as unique as my story is, I am not the only one fighting to survive. When telling my story, I was able to say things I had always kept to myself for fear of judgment or misunderstanding, but there was none of that. My story made it beautifully from my heart to the stage and I am so grateful for that because I have seen the impact it has had on friends and family. For some time I kept what I did a secret from my close friend, but one night I recognized that he too faced similar struggles of depression and was taking a beating from life—I decided then to show him a recording of my story. We both ended up hugging and crying, but ready to move on and face the rest of life. ETD’s stories are powerful and helped me understand myself and that life can be rough, but living and surviving it never has to be done alone.

Amelia (Story Collector)
Working on Matthew's story was an honor. I knew very little about his story before I met him; little did I know that I was in for quite a surprise. When I showed up to collect his story, I thought I was there for him. But the experience of hearing his story was extraordinary. He is a truly phenomenal young man with a heart of gold. His story will captivate and humble you. His narrative breaks past preconceptions and exposes the honest truth of what it means to live in this world. Taking the time to listen and experience this story will change people, for the better. It's an inspirational story from a very strong young man who is going to make a difference in this world. Please take the time to come out and see this show…you will not walk away unaffected.

Jason (Actor)
Jason Economus as Matthew
It was not only a great and wonderful acting thrill/challenge to portray Matthew's story at the Chicago Cultural Center this past June, it was also a deep honor. I had the good fortune of actually meeting the person whom my monologue came from, and what a joy it was. Not all people who share their stories for ETD want to be contacted by the actor portraying them, which is totally understandable. Matthew, however, was totally game to meet up with me, answer questions about his piece, and let me see a little into his day-to-day life. Matthew is a person who has had struggles, yes. But he—and I would say even more so than most—is also a kind, caring, extremely intelligent, and funny, funny guy. His smile literally lights up a room, and his story inspires and touches everyone who hears it.

To be honest, as I started to work on the piece, my actor anxiety started to get in the way. I’d never portrayed a real person on stage before and on top of it, this person was going to attend the performance! However, as I kept running through the piece on my own, replaying the short conversation I had with Matthew, and listening to his extraordinary poem over and over again, something in me was less anxious and became more trusting. I became more trusting of the process overall that ETD engages in on every level - from the interviewer to the storyteller, to the actor who portrays that story to the event and the audience that receives the story.

There is something remarkable happening in all that shuffling around of words and feelings and ideas. It became very, very clear to me the night of the performance that this entire production was bigger than anything in my actor ego—that ego that wanted to be a “good performer.” What was far, far more important were the brave people like Matthew who stepped forward, shared, and spoke their truth, their struggle, and their hope—and in that sharing, helped in a very real way to heal us all.

For more information on Finding Peace in This House, including how to purchase tickets, please click here.

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