CMU School of Drama

Monday, September 26, 2016

Next to Normal

Pittsburgh in the Round: Mental health is a tricky subject to approach in storytelling. Do you try to solve the depression of a character, and risk pulling all the weight out from under your story’s credibility? Do you try to define the core of a character’s mental illness, and risk simplifying the psychological and biological complexities of a common real world problem? Do you avoid diving into the issue out of fear, reducing an otherwise compelling spider web of head and heart to the dusty cobwebs of an unswept stage?

6 comments:

Zak Biggins said...

Next to Normal is an incredible show! The complexity of the characters compliment the music precisely. Diana is a role that I've seen portrayed both by an adult and a teenager (in a summer production), neither interpretation better than the other, rather they both provide insight to the different struggles their respective demographics are faced with. Alice Ripley did a phenomenal job in the original cast by, in my opinion, redefining the role of a "leading lady". The story of Next to Normal challenges audience members. The show is comprised of mental illness and substance abuse and depicts the struggles that they envelop. I hope that I am able to see this production and look forward to reading the reviews!

Emily Lawrence said...

When I saw this show for the first time, I went into it completely blind and I was amazed that a show could be so beautiful. It reveals everything so perfectly, especially the fact that someone who has a mental disability can be so normal until something triggers them. I love that show touches on the sensitive topic that is mental illness and I think it is important to perform this show now more than ever. There is so much conversation going on, but it does not seem to be getting better. I have known many people with these disabilities and they are still human and I still love them, so I heavily appreciate what this show accomplishes. It humanizes the people who are going through it, especially when you have a cast as good as this one is described. I do wish there had not been microphone problems, because I do agree with the author of this article that it can really take away from a show. I do not think it is possible for microphones to ruin this remarkable show though. I would love to see this show again, as it is one of the few shows, I believe, that you get something new from each time you see it.

Delaney Johnson said...

I have never seen Next to Normal. Though I have made many attempts it seems that there isn't a wide opportunity to watch it in my are. This show is certainly on my bucket list though because I can tell simply through the music that it talks about a real issue in a real way. Suicide and mental illness are both serious issues that need to be addressed and discussed in society today because they honestly effect everyone. I have been in multiple situations in my life when I have seen someone teetering on the precipice and had to watch and assist them in making the choice in how to live their life. they were all heart wrenching experiences but I do not regret them for a moment because it is those experiences that have helped me to more easily empathize with individuals and feel their pain. That is what Next to Normal does. It makes you empathize. Without seeing the show I know who these characters are and what they represent, and more importantly I know what I represent also. I hope to see this show soon because I believe shows like Next to Normal need to be out there to make us think and grow as human beings.

Brennan Felbinger said...

I've always been mesmerized by next to normal for all of the reasons stated in this article. When a piece of art attempts to bring up a particularly challenging issue, there are so many "potholes" that can easily take it from being a marvelous piece of art that promotes conversation to a tragic piece that completely turns the audience off in its blatant attempts to talk about a subject that may just be too big for it to handle. This issue is magnified in the theatre, how can you possibly talk about depression and mental illness in a setting that is all about spectacle and entertainment without making the mental illness the spectacle itself? Next To Normal never does this, and I think that can be attributed to just how blatant the discussion of mental illness is in the play, and the style of the art that make it seem as though the points have long been thought out before simply being thrown in front of an audience.

Benjamin King said...

I too, like the rest of the commenters on this post, have been moved by “Next to Normal” in the past. I was fortunate enough to get to see Alice Ripley reprise her role as Diana, which I believe was one of the best theatrical performances I have seen. The subject matter of the musical is not light in any form, which often demands a serious production with thorough rehearsal and a design that does not distract from the story being told on stage as it can demote the effectiveness of the show. This brings me to wonder what type of company would be producing this show. After a little bit of research, it seems like The Theatre Factory is a fairly small outside of Pittsburgh (Trafford to be specific). I’d love to know how a theatre 40 minutes outside of the city does. How do you adapt to a different type of audience base? How do you establish yourself in a city with a quickly growing theatre scene with many already large players.

Sabrina Browne said...

I consider Next to Normal to be one of the greatest successes in theatrical history. The subject matter is no laughing matter and is a very sensitive topic for many. The show illuminates the struggles and realities of metal health and mental illness in a very raw and inspiring way. When doing a show with such an important message, it can at times be hard to balance theatrical elements; grand costumes and flashy lights can very easily overpower what the show is trying to get across. The topic of mental health is very real and very relevant; we all know someone struggling with mental health related issues. Too often mental illness is portrayed as a terrifying problem which is what fuels the stigma that surrounds mental illness. It's refreshing and relieving to see such an important subject be portrayed so respectfully and so successfully.

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