Play-goers attending the rock performance “Next to Normal” by Studio Theater Worcester this month will receive accurate and understandable information and resources for those whose real lives, like those of fictional characters in the play, may be affected by a serious mental illness, thanks to UMass MIND.
UMass MIND is an integrated program of the Department of Psychiatry at UMass Chan School of Medicine, combining clinical services, community intervention, and research focused on individuals with serious mental illness. “Next to Normal” is a 2008 Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical about a mother with bipolar disorder. The story deals with grief, depression, suicide, drug abuse, and ethics in modern psychiatry. Six musical performances take place June 16-26 at Salem Kent Church in Worcester.
“The arts and music can be a powerful way for us to connect with our patients emotionally,” said Xiaoduo Fan, professor of psychiatry and director of UMass MIND.
When John Summers, founder of Studio Theater Worcester, reached out to UMass Chan for help, members of the UMass MIND Community Intervention Program took the opportunity. The program includes a team focused on arts and music as a holistic treatment approach for individuals with significant mental health challenges such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder.
“We thought it would be great to get involved to help provide mental health resources to the community and facilitate post-show discussions,” said Clara Cabot, a sophomore at TH Chan School of Medicine and leader of music arts and outreach at UMass MIND. “It ties in perfectly with our goals to raise awareness of mental health, enhance community participation in conversations and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.”
Medical students participating in UMass MIND curated information for addition to the Next-to-Normal Playbill program. Also in coordination with UMass MIND, an on-site consultant will be present at shows to provide support, if needed, to audience members and help facilitate post-show conversations. Planned talks with cast, crew and mental health professionals from the Worcester community will take place after shows on June 17, 19 and 25.
“We read the text and songs for mental health terms and grouped them into a vocabulary list. We edited the definitions to make them easy to understand for a lay audience. We also included quotes from celebrities including entertainment celebrities who have dealt or dealt with,” said Danielle Lee, a sophomore medical student. with mental health conditions.” “We hope that all this information will encourage audiences to get more involved in the play.”
The material is dedicated to the Worcester community, in particular with a list of local resources for individuals and families with serious mental illness.
“There is a lot of interest in mental health in general, but treating it with an entertaining event is where we can make an impact as an organization,” Summers said. “When we came up with the concept of ‘Beside the Ordinary’, we wanted to find a way to use theater to satisfy a human need. The partnership with UMass MIND was a natural fit.”
“John had a vision to use the show as an opportunity to raise public awareness of mental illness and to make an impact in the community,” Dr. Fan said. “We’ve been doing this kind of initiative for several years now.”
In addition to UMass MIND, the production is sponsored by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Worcester Arts Council, and the Greater Worcester Community Foundation. Tickets are available Online And at the door.
Related stories on UMass Chan News:
UMass MIND Received Drama Therapy Scholarship from National Endowment of the Arts
UMass MIND hosts Orchestrating Change, a music and health documentary, and a panel discussion
One-act drama “Perseverance” coming to UMass Medical School October 19
Xiaoduo Fan has been appointed to the PCORI Advisory Committee on Health Care Delivery and Inequality Research
WGBH Xiaoduo Fan interviews about racial disparities in mental health care