The Lewis Center for the Arts is pleased to join with McCarter Theatre Center, in association with Princeton University Health Services, The 24 Hour Plays® and Innovations in Socially Distant Performance, a project of the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater, to launch The Manic Monologues, a digital theatrical experience to disrupt stigma around mental illness and spotlight a conversation about mental health. The free-to-access website goes live on Thursday, February 18, 2021 at 7 a.m. (EST).
Breakdown to Breakthrough
A psychotic break inspired a Stanford University geology student to create a play in an effort to de-stigmatize mental illness. In 2017, Zack Burton was diagnosed with bipolar disorder while finishing his Ph.D. Elisa Hofmeister helped him through his journey. The two, who were then dating, were driven to address the lack of visible narratives around mental health, resulting in a series of true vignettes they called The Manic Monologues. The play was first performed live at Stanford in 2019. McCarter planned a professional staged reading in 2020. When COVID-19 halted live events, the project was re-conceived for virtual consumption.
The Virtual Experience
Visitors to the interactive website will journey through the minds and stories of individuals who have something to say about the way mental illness has affected their lives. A series of 21 monologues performed by professional actors can be viewed at one’s own pace. The site is a “studio space” where the visitor can creatively and anonymously interact and respond to the stories. These stories — including four monologues submitted anonymously from the Princeton University community — are true. They are brave and personal, and range in age and background. They convey struggle and pain, triumph and resiliency. Viewers can tailor their experience through “mindful play” (sound, writing, doodling.) As viewers choose their journey through the stories, running time will vary.
A virtual resource guide has links to help and support, books, articles, research, and the script. The site’s “Media Center” hosts interviews with leading experts and advocates discussing Mental Health and its intersection with Social Justice, Social Media and COVID, including a conversation with Jean Twenge, best-selling author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.
A series of pre-recorded conversations feature current Princeton undergraduate and graduate students reflecting on the levels of stigma about mental health on college campuses and how this has changed or not changed over time. Students panelists including undergraduates Diana Chao ’21 and Allen Liu ’22 and graduate student Sarah Marie Bruno also discuss the best ways to support the mental health of college students both at the individual and institutional levels.
Cast and Creative Team
The virtual experience was conceived and directed by Lewis Center Lecturer in Theater Elena Araoz; Jared Mezzocchi (Multi-Media Design); Nathan Leigh (Sound Design & Original Music); and Jackie Liu (Web Development).
Araoz directs theater, opera, and virtual performance internationally, Off-Broadway, and regionally, with productions at BAM, Cherry Lane, New York City Opera, Prague Shakespeare, New York Theatre Workshop Next Door, Bucharest International Theatre, Glimmerglass Opera, Oregon Symphony, and PEN America. At Princeton University she leads Innovations in Socially Distant Performance.
The professional cast includes Princeton theater alum Tessa Albertson ’20, whose credits range from Shrek: The Musical on Broadway and The Low Road at the Public Theater, in addition to the role of Caitlin Miller on Younger (TVLand), Generation (HBOMax), Law & Order: SVU, The Family, The Good Wife, and Instinct.
Other actors in the cast include Anna Belknap, Ato Blankson-Wood, Mike Carlsen, Maddie Corman, Alexis Cruz, Mateo Ferro, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Sam Morales, Bi Jean Ngo, Armando Riesco, Jon Norman Schneider, Heather Alicia Simms, C.J. Wilson, Craig Bierko. Casting is by Stephanie Klapper.
Recent Princeton alum Milan Eldridge ’20 and current undergraduate students Katharine Matthias ’21 and Miranda Allegar ’21 worked as part of the creative team. Eldridge, who served as Production Coordinator, is a theater designer, stage manager, and filmmaker whose recent virtual theater work includes Princeton University’s All Her Power, Virginia Grise’s a farm for meme, and Rhythm of the Arts’ SUGAR SKULL! A Virtual Día de Muertos Adventure. Miranda Allegar is a senior from Houston, Texas, studying public policy, cognitive science, and theater at Princeton. Matthias, a senior majoring in Comparative Literature, has worked as a director, playwright, performer, and designer at the Lewis Center for the Arts. Both students conduct research for the Innovations in Socially Distant Performance project.
“With this digital endeavor, McCarter hopes to reinforce its role as a cultural organization dedicated to innovative projects that spark timely dialogue, and strengthen community. In pivoting to virtual creation in COVID, we’ve uncovered exciting ways of combining art and ideas. And, we are excited to make this work, and the conversation around mental health, accessible to a wider and more diverse audience than we would have in a traditional live staged-reading format. These are silver linings!”
– McCarter Theatre Resident Producer Debbie Bisno
Princeton University’s Health Services and Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Calvin R. Chin helped to curate the site’s resource guide, interviews and conversations.
The Manic Monologues virtual experience is made possible through the dedicated support of other Princeton University partners including The TigerWell Initiative, Residential Colleges (Butler, First, Forbes, Mathey, Rockefeller, Whitman) and The Graduate College; support from Daniela Bonafede-Chhabra & Ashvin Chhabra, and a partnership with One Mind All Media, a non-profit organization that accelerates collaborative research and advocacy to enable all individuals facing brain health challenges to build healthy, productive lives. Learn more about the Partners and Sponsors »
About the Original Play
The Manic Monologues is a play showcasing true stories of mental illness to disrupt stigma, created by Zachary Burton and Elisa Hofmeister in the wake of Burton’s bipolar diagnosis while a Ph.D student at Stanford University. The two incorporated accounts from dozens of brave individuals across the continent and beyond — from survivors with diagnoses; from health professionals; from mothers, sons, and friends; from lovers. The play premiered in May 2019 at Stanford and was performed in Des Moines & LA before COVID-19, drawing accolades from NPR, Washington Post, and BroadwayWorld, among others.
About McCarter Theatre Center
Under the leadership of award-winning Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen, Managing Director Michael S. Rosenberg and Special Programming Director William W. Lockwood, McCarter’s mission is to create world-class theater and present the finest artists for the community engagement, education, and entertainment. Winner of the 1994 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, world premieres include Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike; Tarell Alvin McCarey’s The Brother/Sister Plays, Emily Mann’s Having Our Say, and Danai Gurira’s The Convert. Learn more about McCarter Theatre Center »