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Gaslight musical to highlight the effects of mental illness

Enid News & Eagle - 4/23/2018

April 23--Entertainment will meld with advocacy in May with the Gaslight Theatre production of "Next to Normal," a musical that examines the effects of mental illness on a family.

The Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning musical focuses on the Goodman family, "and their daily struggle to navigate life and embody society's rather utopian image of the 'normal' family, against currents of crisis and mental illness," according to a Gaslight press release.

Show director Jason Maly said "Next to Normal" was chosen for the May production because it is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and he wanted to use the play to bring public awareness to mental illness and its impact on the community.

"When I submitted to direct this play a little over a year ago, I saw it as an opportunity to do the other half of what our responsibility is in community theater," Maly said. "Everyone knows the first half, which is to entertain, but the other half is to educate and highlight important issues in the community."

Maly said now is an important time to discuss mental health, and to remove barriers to treatment.

"We live in a time when mental health resources and funding are shrinking, and we also live in a society where mental health is very stigmatized," Maly said. "It carries with it a weight that goes against the utopian view of what society has of 'normal.' We just have this view of what normal would be like, and we don't want to talk about anything else."

Maly said the musical steps away from clinical issues surrounding mental health, and into the seldom-seen workings of a family living through the disease.

"It's not a play about illness or medications or treatment, but it is a play about this one family and how they navigate life through all these challenges they're facing," Maly said. "There are a lot of things you can identify with as being real and true to life."

Sean Byrne, policy chair of the Garfield County Mental Health Coalition, said plays like "Next to Normal" are important in highlighting the prevalence of mental illness in Oklahoma.

"In Oklahoma there are approximately 600,000 people who struggle with a mental illness," Byrne said. "Seventy percent of those people never receive treatment of any type, so when we have a media event like this play, it helps people see what the signs and symptoms of a mental illness might look like, and we want to use that for education so people can recognize signs and symptoms in their friends and family."

Byrne said he also hopes the play will help the public realize the need to fund mental health treatment.

"Oklahoma is notoriously bad in funding mental health issues and treatment," Byrne said.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation 2015 report, Oklahoma spends just $53 per capita annually on mental health, compared to the national average of $120 -- placing Oklahoma in the 46th place nationally for mental health funding.

The outcomes match the funding, according to a 2017 study by the nonprofit mental advocacy group Mental Health America, which found Oklahoma placed 45th among the states for health outcomes among youth.

Byrne said he hopes "Next to Normal" will help the public realize mental health is a medical issue, that needs the same attention and treatment as other health issues.

"I am so proud, amazed and thankful Gaslight is willing to put on a show like this," Byrne said, "especially during mental health awareness month."

In addition to educating the public, the musical also will give licensed professional counselors an opportunity to discuss mental health needs in the community, and earn three hours of continuing education units.

Catina Sundvall, licensed professional counselor and nationally certified counselor, said the show will "give professional counselors a view into a family that is coping with severe mental illness and trauma."

"As mental health outpatient counselors, we don't get to see the interactions of the family members," Sundvall said, "and being able to see the destruction and the devastation that severe trauma can have, many years after the instigating event, is really important."

Show dates for "Next to Normal are May 4-6 and 10-12. Performance times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and Thursday at 7 p.m.

Training and CEUs will be offered in conjunction with the matinee on May 6, with training to start at 1 p.m., and question and answer sessions at the intermission and after the show.

The CEU cost is $20, which includes a ticket to the musical.

Sundvall said counselors who wish to attend and receive credit for the CEU training should call the Gaslight box office at (580) 234-2307, and let the office know the reservation is for the CEU session.

Maly said he hopes the show will be beneficial to the cause of mental health in the community, "but I don't want that to overshadow the fact that it's a very well-written and entertaining musical."

"It's a very entertaining show," Maly said. "I want people to come to the show with an open mind, prepared to be entertained, but also prepared to be moved and to learn something."

For more information and tickets, visit or call the box office at (580) 234-2307.


(c)2018 the Enid News & Eagle (Enid, Okla.)

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