On Sunday, October 4, This Is My Brave will be presenting its very first show in New York City, having previously staged shows in cities across the country including Boston and Washington D.C. The mission is to build communities and destigmatize mental illness by showcasing singers, writers, actors, and poets, all of whom either live with or have a close connection to someone with mental illness. Co-Producer Rachel Godfrey reflects on her experience working on the show and how storytelling can save lives, not just for audiences but for artists as well.
Storytelling saves lives. Before working with This Is My Brave, I thought I knew what these words meant. For my whole life, I have believed in the transformative power of stories, particularly live theatre and performance art. As an audience member, my worldview was shaped and altered irrevocably by the words of writers like August Wilson, Larry Kramer, Stephen Sondheim, and very recently by the brilliant Lisa Kron and Lin-Manuel Miranda. With each of these stories, my mind was opened a little more, and I gained empathy. I had a better understanding of people who I thought were not like me, but in reality, we shared more in common than I could have imagined.
When I heard the words “Storytelling Saves Lives,” I believed writers, composers, and performers could change lives through the stories they tell, and as a writer, that’s a pretty gratifying idea. I aspired to be the kind of writer who inspires change. What I didn’t imagine was how telling my story could save me.
In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou writes, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” It is a sentiment that is all too familiar for people who live with mental illness, for a father raising a child while simultaneously battling bipolar disorder; a mother with postpartum depression, heartbroken that she cannot love her child the way she always imagined; or someone looking for true love (or a little romance) but fearing that no one could truly love them.
Some of them might speak up. They will ask for help and find the words for their hidden pain. Maybe they will share their story, like our brave cast and everyone who auditioned for the show. For others, however, it will remain unspoken. They will hear the media demonize mental illness, to suggest that if they are depressed, they are also dangerous, unhinged, or broken. They will feel guilty telling their family and friends, afraid that their loved ones will blame themselves. Once they say those words out loud – bipolar, post-traumatic stress, postpartum depression – it will be true.
This is why I have so much love and respect for our cast. It takes nerve for an actor to get up on a stage and play a character, but it takes true courage to get up on stage and be yourself. Storytelling saves lives because it gives people the chance to unburden themselves and let go of their untold stories, and when they do, the world is better for it.
This Is My Brave NYC will be playing Sunday, October 4 at 4:00 PM at Hunter College’s Kaye Playhouse. Tickets are still available through the box office or online at ThisIsMyBrave.org, $25 for adults and $20 for students.