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This West Chester Theatre Is Putting on a Musical About Mental Health

Students at the Limelight Performing Arts Center bring a heartfelt musical to campus.

Lindsay Wigo

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West Chester University students: you might want to get back on campus early this summer. There’s a musical coming to a theatre near you, and you don’t want to miss it.

New Light Theatre Company’s production of “Next to Normal” is coming to Limelight Performing Arts Center in West Chester from August 10-12. The small cast of only 6 performers has been working tirelessly to tell the story of a mother’s struggle with bipolar disorder. CMN got the backstage scoop and spoke with a few cast members about what to expect from this show, how the process has been and why this particular show is more important than ever in this age.

“’Next to Normal’ is a show about differences, struggles, and acceptance. In 2018, one of our biggest issues as a society is the inability to accept other people for who they are, no matter who they may be,” Jake Collins tells CMN. “We don’t think twice about what someone else’s experience may have been before we speak or act. Through this show, I want our audiences to understand that life isn’t about what we want for ourselves, but what we want for those we love.”

Faith Yesner, who is portraying the mother, Diana, commented on how challenges and realizations as an actor are still arising.

“This is by far the most challenging and demanding role I have ever done, not to mention complex and highly emotional. And physically exhausting!” Yesner added. She explained how there are so many “a-ha” moments woven into the score/script that didn’t reveal themselves during the first, second or even the third read. After two months of full immersion in the story, there are still realizations that seem to surprise her. “So the challenge, among many, has been to stay aware and tuned in to what is being sung and said by all, knowing that some golden nuggets still remain to be found within this work!”

“Next to Normal” discusses many important mental health themes and many of the actors agree that these are messages that the world needs to hear more often.

“’Next to Normal’’s focus on mental health shows that it is a show we need in this age,” Collins told CMN. He recalls how he has met multiple people who do not believe in helping those who have mental disorders because they think treating them is a waste of money or that the mental disorders aren’t real. “However, I hope that audiences see that this is not true at all. In fact, because we don’t yet have an easy answer to respond to these kinds of disorders, we should be putting even more focus into it, as the consequences of not responding at all are even more dangerous.”

“As an advocate and a lobbyist for mental illness awareness, I am acutely aware of the lack of insurance coverage and adequate care for those struggling with mental illnesses, and of the shame and stigma attached to a disease that is no fault of the sufferer,” Yesner added. “My hope is that our voices will bring light into the darkness that has been mental illness.” Yesner added that one of her favorite quotes from the show is from the final song where Diana sings, “And you find some way to survive, and you find out you don’t have to be happy at all, to be happy you’re alive.”

When it comes to what the cast wants the audience to take away, there are a lot of different responses.

“I hope the audience leaves understanding that they don’t know what goes on behind closed doors— that a family that seems perfect and loving may have issues they can’t imagine,” Elsa Kegelman said. “Similarly, I hope the audience leaves recognizing that being a “normal” family isn’t important so much as being a family that loves and supports one another, whatever form that takes.” She added how working on her role of Natalie has been a very eye-opening experience because her character doesn’t have many of the qualities and support systems that Elsa has grown up with. Kegelman adds that she loves working with a small cast because the show is about family, so it has been very easy to create that sense since the cast is always together.

Be sure to catch “Next to Normal,” opening August 10. Buy tickets here— they are selling out fast!

 

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Lindsay is a journalism student and is excited to be working with College Media Network as a writer/reporter. She hopes to work in the journalism field in the future as a features and profiles writer. For more of her work, visit her website: www.lindsaywigo.com

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