The Manic Monologues
- By gentleguide
- On Thu 07 nov 2019
Open Door Rep returns with a topical pop-up show that’s being performed for only the second time ever. The Manic Monologues is a series of scenes (developed at Stanford University in California) about the pervasive and often misunderstood topic of mental illness, and how it affects both specific individuals and the people around them. Open Door Rep is proud to be only the second group in the country to present this brand new show. A large and diverse cast has been assembled to tell these stories, and to share with the audience the many variations in mental illness (often unseen) that exist.
Mental illness (and those who suffer from the various ways it manifests itself) is often spoken about in whispers, with uncertainty and suspicion. After all, most of us would like to consider ourselves “normal” people, and since the symptoms can represent many other things, the actual process of identifying mental illness, let alone going through any process to deal with it, is fraught with uncertainty and stigma. That’s why The Manic Monologues was created.
Can’t Just Stop It
Mary Shipley performs in one of the many presentations in The Manic Monologues, which last anywhere from half a page to a few pages long. “One piece in particular starts off stating ‘By the time you wonder if you're manic, you already are.’ It discusses, in a pretty humorous tone, the denial of being manic and how other people rationalize their behavior as charming, fun, and spirited.”
“In my piece, I remind my son of how he looked at me sadly saying ‘mom, don't be like this.’ That particular moment struck me when I first read it because the idea that a person can just ‘stop’ being mentally ill is far too common. Even if an outsider realizes it can't be stopped, there are many people who choose to hide it or keep it a secret because they have been taught to be ashamed by it. They have been told there is something wrong with who they are as a person rather than how they have a condition that causes parts of their brain work differently.”
Acknowledge What Is There
“I find that many people fail to realize that there is a problem,” says another actress in The Manic Monologues, Patricia Uy-Westland, “unless they witness what people come to expect mental illness to be as portrayed by the media, ie psychotic/sociopathic behavior, hysteria, depression, and suicidal tendencies.”
“Mental illness unfortunately often is undiagnosed and untreated because of the stigma that surrounds it. There can be feelings of shame, fear, weakness and the fear of repercussions that can result from seeking help. From an early age, we are taught to ‘hide our crazy’, don't embarrass the family, and get over it. If we ignore it, everything's okay. We are normal. Everyone wants to be perceived as normal. Unfortunately, a breaking point is reached and self-medication occurs to alleviate the pain via substance abuse, risky behavior, and self-harm. Mental pain is every bit as debilitating as physical pain.”
Who I Am
The casting process for The Manic Monologues was one of the most wide open in recent memory. The original audition notice for Open Door’s production asked for any race, any sex, any age. “The flexibility of many of these pieces is striking,” says Jake Leiberton. “We have members of the cast who have adjusted their monologues in ways that transcend gender, sexuality, and race. I believe Susie [Irish, the director] was ultimately responsible for assigning monologues to actors, but she did such an excellent, purposeful job doing so. For my part, she really took into consideration my non-binary gender identity.”
“I attended the audition and told her that I am non-binary and my pronouns are they/them. I mentioned this under the premise that I’d be fine getting cast as male OR female. Susie, without hesitation, suggested, why not just cast me as non-binary? It was like a dream come true. The monologue selected for me makes mention of queerness, but never explicitly defines it. This allows me to portray a non-binary character, which is really cool because I have never explicitly done so.”
Just listening to Jake, it is obvious how important this project is to them. “I actually work in the mental health field as a Job Coach for Optimae LifeServices. We work closely with NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to help individuals and families with mental illnesses. When I saw that all of the proceeds from the production went directly to NAMI, I was like ‘heck yeah!’ and signed up for an audition slot immediately.”
“Likewise, mental illness serves as a personal issue as I am a person who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. What’s been really cool about my monologue and this process has been the ability to apply the work I’ve done personally and in therapy to my acting work. I’ve been able to treat my character as an individual experiencing PTSD symptoms, which has been quite rewarding for me.”
“I hope viewing this production will open some people’s eyes to the fact that ‘mental illness’ isn’t synonymous with ‘crazy.’”
Spread the Word
DC Felton has worked with Carousel Theatre in Indianola, and is also an adjudicator for High School Speech contests, the Iowa HS Musical Theatre Awards, and writer for Broadway World in addition to his acting and directing projects. “To me, the beauty of this show is that it tells a cohesive story about people dealing with mental illness, but it also treats each monologue as its own story. There isn’t a set way that it looks for someone to have a mental illness. There has been a stigma associated with mental illness that people are just starting to talk about. As people talk about it, it seems more and more people are starting to be comfortable with saying that they have a mental illness. It’s a dialogue that needs to continue in our society.”
“We have to be able to tell our stories in order to find our differences and see our similarities. I hope audiences that come to The Manic Monologues see that while mental illness can be difficult to talk about, it’s ok and important that we have a dialogue about it. It’s ok if you have a mental illness. You’re not alone.”
Open Door Rep presents The Manic Monologues for only three performances, Friday November 15 through Sunday November 17. Shows are being held at the Franklin Jr. High, and tickets are available through the Open Door Rep website (and I’d recommend getting your tickets through the website prior to the show, as seating is somewhat limited).