Rachel Beckman ’12 focuses dramatic arts senior project on mental illness
For Rachel Beckman ’12, creating her senior drama project took help from the Centre community.
Beckman, along with Justin Allard ’15, Hallie Boyd ’14, Ali Gautier ’15, Steven Maddox ’14 and Kaitlin Vaught ’15, will perform self-written monologues about the role mental illness has played in their own lives at 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 6 in the Black Box Theater. The performances are free and open to the public.
Beckman’s project was inspired by a production she had seen on Broadway that motivated her to learn more about how mental illness is depicted onstage.
“Patrick Kagan-Moore told us our senior seminar projects should reflect our theatrical interests, who we are and who we want to become. My primary theatrical interest is in acting and storytelling,” Beckman says. “After I saw the musical ‘Next to Normal’ on Broadway two summers ago, I truly realized theater’s power. The musical depicts the highs and lows of living with mental illness, a subject close to my heart because I’ve struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
The idea to have people write monologues about their own experiences came after Beckman realized that mental illness is not a common theme in drama.
“I originally thought I’d perform professionally written monologues about mental illness. Either those don’t exist, or I didn’t look in the right places,” she says. “But I did discover a project called ‘Minds Interrupted,’ in which people write and perform their own monologues about dealing with mental illness—their own or a loved one’s. After talking with Michele Herling, one of the ‘Minds Interrupted’ co-founders, I knew this was the perfect seminar project for me.”
Beckman reached out to students, faculty and staff about participating in her senior project and was surprised by their enthusiasm.
“Frankly, I was awestruck by the outpouring of support from the Centre community. Forty-five people—faculty, staff and students—expressed interest,” she says. “The numbers dwindled some as we held three workshops, where we wrote responses to the prompts ‘I remember,’ ‘things the illness has taught me’ and ‘breaking down.’ And from these responses, people fashioned their own stories.”
For Beckman, one of the most important aspects of her senior project is to create a place for people to discuss mental illness, which is often kept in the dark.
“People will talk about almost anything, but they’re often too ashamed to speak up for mental health,” she says. “Granted, it’s a serious topic, but know that in our show, there will be plenty of laughs as well.”
The process of crafting the monologues has been poignant for everyone involved.
“Obviously, hearing people’s stories in the workshops and rehearsals has been emotional. They’re funny, sad, hopeful and touching,” says Beckman. “I’m privileged that so many people have been brave enough to share their stories with me. I’ve only spent a short time with the participants, but I feel like I’ve gotten to know them on a deeper level than most people ever dare to go.”
Beckman hopes the monologues performed for her senior project will showcase a common theme of the shared experience of humanity.
“To me, the best theater shows the beauty—and the pain—of living,” she says. “We performers will show our darkest recesses, but I hope that by the conclusion, the audience can say along with us, ‘Let there be light.’”