Woods Hole Theater Company Tackles Mental Illness

Producing the award winning rock musical “next to normal”
"next to normal" cast: From left to right: (front row) Dan Zajac, Nora Canaday, Sarah Sharkey and Peter Cook (Back row/stairs) Jeffery Kelly and Tim Hystad (Woods Hole Theater Company)

By Corinne Cameron

As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, one must remember that awareness and education needs to happen consistently, all year round. It is a topic that  the Cape is not immune from, as indicated from the countless (and greatly needed) mental health and social service agencies from Falmouth to Provincetown. The Woods Hole Theater Company, a non-profit company that has been entertaining audiences since 1974, wanted to take this year’s message of being “Stigma Free” in relation to mental illness, to heart. Thankfully, there is a 2008 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning musical that fits the bill, enabling WHTC to combine great entertainment with educating their audiences on a mental illness, bipolar disorder, that many have heard of, but few fully understand.

On June 8th, 2017, Woods Hole Theater Company will present: “next to normal” on the Woods Hole Community Hall stage. "next to normal" has been described as a “feel everything” rock musical. Playwright and Lyricist Brian Yorkey creates a masterpiece, balancing the work’s serious content with humor and beautiful lyrics. Tom Kitt brings these lyrics to life with beautiful and sometimes intense, rock music. These two masterful men came together and delivered an extraordinary, award winning masterpiece, which takes the audience on a riveting 2.5 hour rollercoaster ride.

This intense musical is about a suburban mother who struggles living with her worsening bipolar disorder, her attempts to alleviate the symptoms, and the effect it has on her family.  "next to normal" is a beautifully poignant musical which also tackles the topics of mental illness, grieving a loss, suicide, self-medicating, cutting, drug abuse and medical treatment ethics. While we have no age requirements, this show is not recommended for young audiences as it contains adult language and more mature themes listed previously.

The cast members have had a unique experience as they prepared for an audience. The were able to meet with a women who is living with bipolar disorder and intently listened as she detailed her experiences. It was important to each person to understand the illness as much as they possibly could, in order to give their characters a realism while making sure they respect those suffering and not revert to stereotype in their portrayal. During the Month of May, each cast and crew member took the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) StigmaFree pledge.  Part of this pledge was learning the practical ways to live StigmaFree in one’s daily lives by getting educated on avoiding labels as well as using respectful language. You can go to http://bit.ly/2stigmafree to learn more about the StigmaFree Pledge.

Director, Pat Farrell of East Falmouth and Music Director, Pamela Wannie of Centerville, were thrilled with the audition response as “next to normal” is a favorite among musical theatre actors. The love of, and impact of, this show is evidenced by the distances many of the actors needed to travel to get to rehearsal. The cast is comprised of a talented group of community theatre actors including Sarah Sharkey of Rockland playing the mother, Diana with Peter Cook of East Falmouth playing her husband, Dan. Their two children Gabe and Natalie are played by Jeff Kelly of Marstons Mills and Nora Canaday of Cotuit, respectively. Rounding out the cast are Dan Zajac of Freetown, playing Natalie’s boyfriend, Henry and Tim Hystad of Cotuit who portrays both Diana’s Psycho Pharmacologist, Dr. Fine and well as Psychiatrist Dr. Madden.

Rounding out the production team is Stage Manager, Meg Sullivan of Mashpee and Amy Jane Kneppers of Falmouth, who will serve as a Production Assistant.

To further their commitment to providing education and resources, WHTC will host a few special events before or after select performances. On June 11th and 25th, following the show, there will be a Talk-Back where the audience can ask questions of the cast and director. On June 10th there will be a pre-show talk and Q&A from 6-7PM for ticket holders. It will feature a mental health professional as well as community members who have been impacted by mental illness. At each performance, literature will be available from various local mental health agencies, so audience members can learn more about mental illnesses as well as the necessary information to seek help for themselves or someone they know.

For more information or to purchase tickets:

The Woods Hole Theater Company will present Brian Yorkey’s “next to normal” on June 8th-10th, 16th-17th, 23rd & 24th at 7:30 PM and June 11th and 25th at 2:00PM at the Community Hall at 68 Water Street in Woods Hole. Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased online at www.woodsholetheater.org or by calling OVATIONTIX at 866-811-4111. Cash, check and credit cards are accepted at the box office which will open 1 hour before each performance. Walk-ins will be seated on a  first-come, first-serve basis. 

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