Theatre Saved My Life. It Can Save Others Too

Anthony J. Piccione

Depression: To me, it is one of the most destructive and misunderstood diseases on the planet. It is to the spirit what cancer is to the body. Slowly but surely, it eats away at who you are until there is nothing left of you but a miserable, empty shell of a person. The number of victims who lost their lives while fighting it off is countless. It is the worst possible thing that could be inflicted on a person’s psyche, and personally, I wouldn’t wish it on my own worst enemy.

But thankfully, there is an effective treatment out there for it. It’s a treatment that many of us are already severely addicted to: the beautiful art that is theatre.

To some people, theatre is an artistic passion that many people use to satisfy their creative urges. To others, it is a very unique viewing experience that you want to have over and over again, whether it is to think about or feel something you didn’t before seeing the show, or simply to be joyfully entertained. For some other people, it is an opportunity to make new friends and connections, and to perhaps build a sense of community that felt missing before. To me, it is certainly all of these things. But it also means something that is perhaps more significant to my life, and possibly could be to others as well…

Before I discovered my love for theatre, I was going through some especially dark times in my life. I had just survived my freshman year in high school, which to me was truly a living hell. At the time, I had absolutely no friends, was bullied regularly, and felt largely misunderstood and different from others. All of what I was going through led me to feel like I had no purpose in life, and made me feel – at times – like I should just give up on life altogether.

That was until the fall of 2008, when I was experienced the thrill of acting in my first play as part of my high school’s Drama Club. After that, I continued to audition for more shows – both at school and in community theatre – while also taking some acting lessons in the meantime. I later went to college with the intention of studying theatre, where I also later got more and more into writing my own plays, while also still doing some occasional acting. Throughout this time period, I found comfort and relief in the idea of escaping from the harsh realities of the world outside theatre, whether it was through becoming a character other than myself while performing onstage, creating an entirely new world by writing a script, or even just by helping to bring the show to life in any other way. Along the way in community theatre, I also met some of the people in my life whom are still some of the best friends that I’ve ever had today. As I made my way through the next several years in my life, it was through these various theatrical activities that I was able to cope – if not heal, to an extent – the pain that I had felt.

To put it bluntly: If it weren’t for theatre, I probably wouldn’t be here today.

Yet as the years went by, and as I continued by various endeavors in both acting and playwriting, I admit that this was an easy thing to lose sight of as years went by. At times in my life recently – while I am certainly stronger than I was as a sad and lonely high school freshman – I have still felt some moments of depression. Not as extreme as what I went through many years ago, but still enough to make me feel a deep lack of satisfaction with the way certain things are going in my life, and a burning desire for me to feel better and happier about myself. Yet when I get like that, I try to think about both what I’ve already done in theatre, and what I hope to do next. It is those moments that have helped sustain me in the past, and it is the moments that I aim to see happening someday in the near future that motivate me to keep going. I don’t always remember that, but when I do, I realize just how much of an impact theatre has had on my life, to the point where I couldn’t imagine a life today where I hadn’t ventured into the world of theatre.

This summer, the work I’ve done writing about theatre here at OnStage over the summer has provoked me to do a bit of reflecting on my evolution in theatre – not just as an artist, but as a human being – over the past seven years. My involvement in theatre – whether it’s through writing new plays, performing on stage, working backstage, or even writing articles about theatre such as this one – has helped me find my purpose in life. It has given me a reason to wake up in the morning, go out and be willing to try some things that I otherwise might not have been willing to try, and ultimately to keep going even when things get tough. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still some challenges for me, as a person. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t, and I’m sure that’s also the case for many others out there. Yet because of theatre, I wouldn’t be the person sitting here and writing this column that I am today.

The reason I am sharing all of this is simple: It is my hope that many others out there who suffer from depression, or maybe those who know someone who suffers from depression, will be able to see how I have been sustained and motivated through my years in theatre, and use that as some sort of example for how to get through any hard times that they might be going through now. Maybe I’m just being a bit too naïve right now, but I truly do believe that for others, just as it has been for me, having the experience of being involved in theatre can (if they haven’t done it already) help make someone feel better – whether it is by fulfilling a passion for creativity or by making some new connections – can make a significant difference in someone’s life that is truly positive. 

If my experience is any indicator at all, I believe that theatre truly can be – if not an outright cure – then certainly a very strong treatment to help someone get through depression. I highly recommend it for anyone out there who is looking to get away from what may be the depressing aspects of their lives, and be able to – even if it’s just for a few periods of time, such as rehearsals or performances or, if you’re like me, a time alone to work on writing a script – escape into a new world or becomes someone new. For me, there has been no better medicine than this. I can’t imagine that I’d still be here today if I had never discovered theatre as a teenager, and I’m very glad that I ultimately did.