Health Team

Musical shares reality of mental illness

Posted May 1, 2015

— A Tony Award-winning musical that puts a spotlight on mental health opens Friday in Raleigh. "Next to Normal" is more than just a performance at Fletcher Opera Theater.

In the drama, Diana Goodman, played by Lauren Kennedy, struggles with bi-polar disorder.

"She is someone who probably has a predisposition for mental illness, and her life sort of just happens to her, and it sort of unravels," Kennedy says.

Throughout the play, the character of Diana Goodman, her family and her friends struggle with the stigma associated with mental illness.

Shelley Eure Belk's non-profit, Foundation of Hope, is one of many organizations partnering with the North Carolina Theater in making "Next to Normal" more than just a performance.

"Fighting the social stigma is one of the biggest issues that the mental health community faces," Eure Belk says.

That's why two performances -- the May 2 matinee and the May 3 performance -- will be followed by post-show conversations for people with questions about mental illness.

"One of the most important things we need to do is have a conversation about mental illness and let people know that it's O.K," Eure Belk said.

In the play, Goodman faces different decisions about medications, holistic approaches and even electro-shock therapy.

"What this character grapples with is how she's going to manage it," Kennedy said.

It's a serious topic. The play is emotionally charged but light-hearted.

"I always want to make sure I tell people it is funny, so they won't think it's going to be like this gut-wrenching experience for two hours," Kennedy said.

Organizers hope the experience will last beyond two hours and help people find answers and help for themselves or a loved one with mental illness.

The final dress rehearsal of "Next to Normal" is Friday. Performances run through May 10 at the Fletcher Opera Theater.


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