Along with her classmates at DePaul University, guest blogger Tamara Davis recently watched a sneak peek of two of the stories that are featured in our upcoming production WILL YOU STAND UP? Read about Tamara's response to the experience below.
“Why would I want to go see a performance about violence and mental health issues?”
I admit it - that was my initial, internal reaction when I first learned of the storytelling productions presented by Erasing the Distance. I, like a lot of people, have allowed myself to become conditioned to the concept that sensitive issues such as abuse, mental health and violence are often too controversial to bring to the open. Erasing the Distance goes a step further by not simply presenting these issues to the public, but presenting them using the actual words of people who have graciously opened up about their personal journey so that a path might be cleared for someone else who is silently suffering alone through similar circumstances. These issues can invoke pain, embarrassment, fear and sometimes…realization. Yes, I went into my sneak preview of ETD’s performance pieces wondering why I would want to see a production about such sensitive, controversial topics, but I emerged from the brilliant performances wondering: “How can I get other people to see these performances?”
Given the current environment in Chicago, the message and mission of Erasing the Distance is quite timely. Chicago has been under siege recently, plagued by repetitious news reports of violence, instability, and the closings of much needed mental health facilities across the city. A person who does not readily identify with mental health concerns might only consider the ramifications of these budget cuts in terms of how the closings will impact the safety of our individual neighborhoods. As if we need only to lock our doors and stay out of sight of “those people” experiencing mental health concerns and all will be well. Erasing the Distance shines a light on this falsehood by presenting the real stories of everyday people who are experiencing many of the same traumas of life that anyone might experience. Mental health instability can be the result of a cousin who was abused as a child, but never had an ear to listen. Instability can be the result of a woman silently enduring physical abuse from her husband of 10 years. Instability can be the result of a man who has silently suffered through internal crisis because he was taught by his alcoholic father that “real men don’t go crying about their problems” to other people. The issues are happening right now in all of our neighborhoods.
The performances I experienced through Erasing the Distance drove home the fact that violence and mental health issues can touch us all, even if we do not readily identify our personal connections to this often silent epidemic. I was fortunate to witness two of ETD’s powerful ensemble actors, Adam Poss and Maura Kidwell, for my introduction to the work of this group and I was immediately blown away. The real life stories they presented could have come from Anytown, USA and the events recounted transcended race, gender, age, or socio-economic conditions. Sharing tales of a son seeking both approval and safety from an abusive father in one act and the tale of an unpredicted downward spiral of a physically and verbally abusive relationship in the next act, I became enthralled by both the typicality of the scenarios and the flawlessness with which they were presented. The performances were so strong that many of us later acknowledged that we forgot that the actors were not in fact the actual people associated with the stories! The audience became invested in the voices and circumstances of the individuals and as such, the personal dialogue and individual sharing really began.
Why should anyone see the performances of Erasing the Distance? Because they are telling our stories. The real life stories that are shared on the stage may originate from people that we don’t know and will likely never see, but their tales carry with them an understanding and acceptance that many are too afraid to seek out openly. More than simply “putting on a performance,” Erasing the Distance exposes the real lives of people whom we may be walking past or talking to everyday without ever knowing their real story. The performances helped me to realize that there is not one segment of the population that may be experiencing these silent battles, but that our entire population is susceptible. By embracing this reality, we can open the discussion so that no one has to struggle through such difficulties alone.
Tamara Davis is a writer and community advocate who has worked with a number of social development nonprofits over the last four years. She believes that social sustainability is essential for producing healthy communities and mental health is one critical factor impacting the lives of all community members. In addition to tackling community development issues, she is a lover of all things artistic, believing the arts to be an avenue of expression for those whose voices frequently go unheard.