Theatergoers attending Studio Theater Worcester’s rock musical Next to Normal this month will receive accurate, comprehensive information and resources for those whose real lives, like those of the fictional characters in the play, may be affected by a serious mental illness, thank you to UMass MIN.
UMass MIND, an integrated program from the Department of Psychiatry at UMass Chan Medical School, combines clinical services, community interventions and research focused on individuals with serious mental illness. Next to Normal is a 2008 Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical about a mother struggling with bipolar disorder. The story explores grief, depression, suicide, substance abuse and ethics in modern psychiatry. Six performances of the musical will take place June 16-26 at Salem Covenant Church in Worcester.
“Art and music can be a powerful way for us to connect emotionally with our patients,” said Xiaoduo Fan, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of UMass MIND.
When Studio Theater Worcester founder John Somers approached UMass Chan for help, members of the UMass MIND Community Intervention Program jumped at the opportunity. The program includes a team focused on art and music as a holistic treatment approach for individuals suffering from significant mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.
“We thought it would be great to get involved in providing mental health resources to the community and facilitating post-show discussions,” said Clara Cabot, a sophomore at TH Chan School of Medicine and director of arts and music education for UMass MIN. “It aligns perfectly with our goals of raising mental health awareness, encouraging community engagement in conversations and reducing the stigma around mental illness.”
Medical students involved in UMass MIND have curated information to add to the Next to Normal playbill program. Also in coordination with UMass MIND, an on-site consultant will be present at the performances to offer viewers support if needed and to facilitate post-show conversations. Scheduled talks with cast, crew and mental health professionals from the Worcester community will take place following performances on June 17, 19 and 25.
“We read the script and songs for terms specific to mental health and compiled them into a vocabulary list. We’ve edited definitions to make them easy for laypeople to understand. We also included quotes from famous people, including entertainment industry celebrities, who have or are dealing with mental illness,” said Danielle Li, a second-year medical student. “We hope that all of this information can encourage audiences to engage further with the play.”
Material is tailored for the Worcester community, specifically with a list of local resources for individuals and families struggling with serious mental illness.
“There’s a lot of interest in mental health in general, but if we address it with an entertainment event, we can make a difference as an organization,” Somers said. “When we came up with the concept of Next to Normal, we wanted to find a way to use theater to address a human need. Partnering with UMass MIND was a natural fit.”
“John’s vision was to use the show as an opportunity to raise public awareness of mental illness and make an impact in the community,” said Dr. Fan. “We’ve been running these types of initiatives for a number of years.”
In addition to UMass MIND, the production is sponsored by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Worcester Arts Council and the Greater Worcester Community Foundation. Tickets are available on-line and at the door.
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