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Normal Community High School Theater Production Brings Awareness To Mental Health

Students sit in classroom and talk.
Ryan Denham
Director Emma Williams, right, during a rehearsal this week for "Tigers Be Still" at Normal Community High School. She’s with actors Logan Dirr and Jack Mondragon and assistant director Bella Manzo.";

When a community is struggling with a social issue, theatre can be a place to explore it. Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” tackled the obsession with success the American Dream instills in Willy Loman. Joseph Stein’s “Fiddler on the Roof” shows the power of community tradition as a glue that can keep people together in tough times.

Normal Community High School senior Emma Williams understands the power of theater. She is in the director’s chair for Saturday’s production of the play “Tigers be Still”.

“We felt like this was a really good piece to give people an entry point on some really hard to discuss topics,” Williams said.

“Tigers Be Still” follows a cast of four characters dealing with depression and anxiety in their respective lives. A minimalist set with prop boxes and chairs rather than a large production focuses attention and gives the audience a more intimate connection with the characters. This ability to connect an audience with characters is a key reason Williams feels the play will offer more than a film tackling similar issues.

“Theater is a form of media that is intimate because you are right there with the actors,” Williams said. “Whereas in a movie you are just kind of watching them and detached based off the screen. I think theater is the best way to talk about mental health; you don’t really get the full picture unless you’ve talked to people and you hear what it is really like.”

Proceeds from the production will go to PATH, a local organization offering, among many other things, crisis services.

“(PATH does) a lot of major work within the community and I hadn’t heard of them prior to this year,” Williams said. “It’s a resource that young people and older people in our community should know about alike.”

Despite the serious subject matter of the play, Williams sees the play as a safe space to laugh at some of the outlandishness that can come from mental health issues.

“It’s OK to laugh at the absurdities of this young woman who is stealing karaoke machines and dogs…things that are totally absurd.” Williams said. “I think sometimes people are too nervous and dance around the subject and they’re not apt to laugh at those things.”

The production of “Tigers Be Still” can be seen at 7 p.m Saturday, May 4, at Normal Community auditorium.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
Sean Newgent is a senior journalism major at Illinois State University. He's an intern for the GLT newsroom.