Meredith Roseman Yager, at right, acts spooky as Cat the haunting spirit of Laurie Fisher who is portrayed by Amanda Levesque. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
The local production was done live in sold-out shows in the BeBe Theatre Jan. 26 and 28, as part of Asheville Fringe Arts Festival. It earned the festival patrons’ award for most inspiring piece.
Several of the volunteer actors in it told The Tribune right after the play that it was very rewarding and also emotionally intense — to express feelings, and to some extent relive them.
The audience liked it, based on applause and post-show feedback. Local therapist Anne Wainer was so moved, she offered to help with further shows. “This piece shines light in the darkness on this important topic that is so taboo and has caused so much loss of life, and so much pain for survivors,” she wrote the directors. “It ends so beautifully, that I felt lighter and more able to feel than want to reject the subject matter.”
Many from the cast are apt to be at the video showing, which is open to the public. It is this Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 11 at 4 p.m. The venue is Battery Park Apartments’ enclosed Roof Garden, at 1 Battle Square in downtown Asheville.
There is no admission charge, but donations are appreciated and go toward upcoming production expenses. Access to the apartments’ secured street entrance is 6:15-6:50 p.m. Saturday, and 3:15-3:50 Sunday. Capacity is for 75 people.
The Roof Garden is the site for monthly open jams of music, dance, comedy and poetry put on by The Unspoken Word organizers and others. Sprout Fest, the initial jam, is on Tuesday, March 20 which is the first day of spring. The jam starts 7 p.m. Sign-up is 6:30. Access is 6:15-7 p.m. Donations are accepted.
The Unspoken Word might be acted again live, with auditions then perhaps a revised script with new vignettes, organizers said. “We’re exploring different ideas,” Meredith Leigh Roseman Yager said. She and Amanda Levesque wrote and directed The Unspoken Word, and acted in it. Meredith sang. She is a published poet, and Americana songstress.
“If we act it again, we may do ‘volume two’ and switch to different stories of new cast members,” Meredith said. She said new stories could supplant or join current vignettes. So far, addiction has not been a theme in the script.
“We want to keep true a person’s story, and express it with choreography,” Meredith said. She welcomes behind-scenes help such as a stage manager, choreographer, or producers-donors.
Plans are to copyright the production, and “put the (video) film out there, for others to see,” she said.
The stories are about various people’s bouts with depression including those with disabilities and who have dealt with bullying. The script notes “this show is in memory of those who have committed suicide, and in honor of those who struggle with depression and/or other mental illnesses and/or suicidal tendencies.”
Meredith noted, “our definite message in the piece is to get help.” Right after the Fringe show, Hannah Clark implored the audience to “Reach out!” That is for suicidally depressed and their burdened or frustrated loved ones to seek therapy. In a discussion segment in the end, several from the audience said they were quite inspired to better meet their own challenges, and realize they are “not alone.”
A woman noted her son, seated next to her, was dealing with suicidal depression. “She said she saw him smiling a few times. He was actually relating to it,” Meredith recalled. “I imagine it was emotionally a super raw time for him. But we had a few moments of humor in there.”
Dance motion was the main expression, and often to music performed live on stage or a soundtrack of pop-rock hits. Thus Meredith titled it “The Unspoken Word” — largely also for how contemplation of suicide is taboo. Altar rituals honored departed persons in the storyline. There was prerecorded narrations at pivotal times, but never live dialogue.
Laurie Fisher’s story is “very powerful and beautiful,” Amanda said, adding she was proud to portray her. Earlier in the show, Becky Morgan acts as Amanda, in part with Amanda’s audial narration.
Laurie is very well known among contra dancers (several of whom are in the cast), as a leading fiddler and witty dance caller. Hers was the last of three testimonies.
She revealed how she sank into self-doubts and depression for two years, but rebounded in part with improved diet and energy. “Profound Gratitude” is the name of Meredith’s dance character, to wrap up Laurie’s story in a pageantry-filled scene. Laurie was not in the cast.
Dancing very impressively reflected moods, was mostly modern in style with many variants. Lisa Harris in a vibrant scene clogged out angst. She is a psychotherapist helping people “heal from trauma, loss and mental illness.” Becky’s daughter Rachael Morgan, a counselor and art therapist, was also on hand as an emotional safety net during rehearsals for anyone who felt need to talk out a situation that might get revisited.
Amanda’s mother Patty Levesque danced, and is among three whose narratives are acted out in dance. These stories were either about feeling suicidal depression, or as in Patty’s case losing someone to it. The rock hit “Live and Let Die” by Wings sounded in her vignette.
Amanda said it was cathartic to perform The Unspoken Word, and she can better “move on” from darker times. Her first song choice was REM’s gripping ballad “Everybody Hurts.” She wheeled around in her wheelchair in flow with other cast members, in various scenes.
In her narration, Amanda reasons that “this suicide attempt was more a cry for attention, than an actual suicide attempt… I’m so glad that I couldn’t open the bottle of pills.” She thanked the “loving and tenderness that my friends showed to me” on that emotionally-fragile night.
That included friend Robert. On “that night when I tried to do it (suicide), I scooted into our friend’s room — sobbing my eyes out,” Amanda said in her voice-over. “You were the one who made me feel safe and loved. I wish that I could have been there for you.”
But soonafter, in spring of last year, Robert took his life. Amanda said she felt “numb,” after learning of Robert’s death on Facebook.
Meredith portrayed Robert. She found out he wore hats and jeans in a “creative, mismatched” style. “He was a class clown, mischievous. He gave great massages and hugs” to friends. As Robert’s spirit, Meredith was similarly consoling and playful with motion and expression. She saddened, though, in a farewell waltz with the Amanda character.
Robert’s clowning and carefree exterior made his departure all the more shocking, Amanda said. It is tough to realize depression in an outwardly-happy person. “I don’t know what you were going through, or feeling,” Amanda wrote about/to Robert.
Thinking in part of famed comic Robin William’s recent suicide, Meredith went with The Miracles’ Motown classic “Tears of a Clown” on the soundtrack. SHe selected most of the songs. The opening song is the renown instrumental “Suicide is Painless,” the theme to TV’s “M*A*S*H.”
Contrasting scenes were about friends trying to help a suicidal friend, with different results. First, in Unsuccessful Wall Piece, Hannah’s character is beyond consoling as a friend is befuddled. But later in Successful Wall Piece, Amanda consoles Lisa Harris, who acts depressed. “Amanda steps back, and waits” patiently, Meredith explained. The person feeling down thereby feels less pressured, that the friend is “not trying to fix me. Instead they’re here, listening.”
Indeed, she suggests, that can be a critical first step in approaching a depressed friend or loved one whose signals may be taking out a will or muttering about being fed up with woes or declining health. “It can be hard to listen” and not dismiss suicidal talk as a “silly” phase, Meredith said. Consider it seriously “even if someone jokingly talks about ending their life,” she said. “Listen to whatever they’re saying. Don’t negate it” right away. “Give credit to their thoughts and feelings. Say ‘it must be so difficult.’… Take the friend out for the day.”
“I hear what your’e saying” is Amanda’s suggested opening and assuring response. She, too, cautions against figuring it is merely a “stage” one outgrows.
Referring one to a professional better equipped to deal with depression is an underlining option. Meredith, who has known people who have taken their lives, cleans houses for elderly people including some despondent over death of a spouse.
Some feel nothing works, she said. “If someone says ‘I’ve been to counseling, taken meds, done acupuncture and Yoga. I’m done!’ then you might suggest trying a different counselor.”
Lisa Miguel Smith and Wann Near, among others, portrayed various depressed or depressing spirits. Becky, who has danced in Broadway theater, was the main choreographer with Able Allen and others ably assisting. Hannah and her dance partner lead eclectic “blues and fusion” dances in Asheville.
Wann Near’s family trauma defies his calm and oft-smiling nature, since moving to Asheville 15 years ago. The avid contra dancer grew up in the “Killing Fields” saga of Cambodia. Wann said after his father was mysteriously killed, when he was age five his broken-hearted mother tried to take her life. “Thankfully my family practiced forgiveness, and moved on.”
For more on The Unspoken Word or Sprout Festival, email Meredith Roseman Yager at firstname.lastname@example.org.