Mentally ill share stories through theatre group

August 22, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Sharing personal experiences is therapeutic for people who are coping with mental illness. However, performing in front of live audiences takes a lot more.

Marti Szalai-Raymond has been the artistic director of Thresholds Theatre arts project for 14 years. All of the participants, with exception of three artists in residences, are members of Thresholds.

"It's a six to seven month program, we start from scratch. We share stories, we get up and we move. We do exercises and games and we kind of bounce them off of each other. Then after three months we close the doors to newcomers because now we've gelled as an ensemble," said Szalai-Raymond. "From that point on we really start to focus on the stories and building the show. Then we perform at a live theatre for anywhere between seven and 12 performances."

One production is called "I can hear you with my heart."

"For the first time, we were able to work with our deaf community because we were able to have an interpreter come in from Thresholds and be at every rehearsal and so because that we were able to share three of our deaf community's stories," said Szalai-Raymond.

Thresholds is Chicago's largest mental health agency. They offered a wide range of services to people with mental illness. They also have programs set up for deaf people with mental illness.

Gabriel's story is part of the production.

"I joined the theatre arts saw a great opportunity and thought I'd take advantage of the opportunity and then I was able to share my life story. That really impacted me greatly," said Gabriel.

Norma Rivera is another ensemble member.

"I am deaf. I am mentally ill, too [and suffer from] depression. I feel fine," said Norma.

"They use some of my poems in the play. So the first one was about attitude and the other one about the hope," said Norma.

"Theatre, where you're in a community you're in a safe space, you're sharing your sentences, your words, your movements, your stor, your hope your sadness and your dreams. Other people in the community can say, 'Oh I've had that too,'" said Szalai-Raymond.

Like many social services agency, they are facing budget cuts.

"This year it was solely, strictly word of mouth which was very difficult so our audience struggled for it and again we are in the midst of trying to get the program up and running again for the next season and hoping we can," said Szalai-Raymond.

"I feel great. I'm really proud of myself. I love my life," said Gabriel.

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