Davenport Central brings mental health discussion to the stage

'Next To Normal' highlights topics of grief, suicide and depression

DAVENPORT, Iowa - Davenport Central High School is tackling tough topics in its fall musical "Next To Normal." 

The show has won three Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for its depiction of a family struggling with mental illness. 

Seventeen-year-old Peyton Reese had to do her homework for her role. She plays Diana Goodman, a stay at home mom struggling to manage her bipolar disorder. 

"It was very eye opening ... [I] Definitely had to look up bipolar disorder and the symptoms, how people deal with that illness," Reese said.

For theater director Thea IntVeld that was the goal all along. 

"A lot of students deal with a lot of mental issues themselves, a lot of anxieties and stress," IntVeld said. "This way we can use it as an educational tool other than just entertainment only."  

There are only six cast members: the rest of the Goodman family, a classmate and a psychiatrist. Together they show there aren't always easy answers to coping with mental illness, but there is always a way to get help. 

After each performance, counselors from Vera French and Transitions Mental Health Services will be in the lobby ready to talk with anyone who needs help. The programs will also be stuffed with handouts about mental illness. 

"That'll open it up for our dialogue with our students," IntVeld said. "They'll start coming in for help because they might be struggling more than we know about."

Reese said she doesn't think her classmates will have any trouble connecting with the show. 

"It's dealing with stress, anxiety and mental illness and all these different things that so many people go through, but [aren't] necessarily talked about all the time." 

She said she hopes they can take away this message. 

"You aren't alone. Everything that you're struggling with, somebody else has too," Reese said.

You can see "Next To Normal" at the Davenport Central High School Performing Arts Center on Nov. 3 and 4 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $13.50 for adults and $11.50 for students and seniors. For more information click here


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