Playhouse 615 performers spotlight mental health in production of 'Next to Normal'

MT. JULIET, Tenn. (WTVF) — Performers in Mt. Juliet are using their craft to showcase mental health issues as they bring a Broadway musical to life in Middle Tennessee.

“I think this musical is so timely right now because more people than ever are dealing with mental health issues and this sort of sheds a spotlight on that,” said Daniel Vincent who portrays ‘Dan’ in the production of ‘Next to Normal’. The musical follows the story of a family facing grief and mental illness.

For Vincent, performing in the musical has been a cathartic experience, confronting his own history of mental health. “I feel like I’ve been in some of these situations so I related so much to it,” he said.

Memory Strong takes on the role of Diana- Dan’s wife and a mother struggling with bipolar disorder. “She deals with delusions, depression, a suicide attempt,” said Strong.

The Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway musical draws attention to the mental health crisis faced across the nation, including locally.

“There is just a devastating lack of mental health counselors in Middle Tennessee right now,” said Strong. “There’s a three month waiting list and if somebody’s in crisis- contemplating suicide- you can’t afford to wait three months.”

Cast members are bringing the topics front and center, in the hopes audiences can relate.

“I think that we can all identify with the grief and the anxiety and the isolation that has been such a big issue over the last two years and living through the pandemic and I think the ability to express that in a safe space with people who care about you, and about the community, and about the material is just a wonderful, cathartic experience,” said the show’s director, Matt Smith.

Performances are Friday’s, Saturday’s and Sunday’s and run through February 27.

Strong said, “the biggest thing is creating normalcy around the issues of mental health and how they affect- not only the person who’s dealing with them- but the people around them.”

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis in Tennessee can call the TN Statewide Crisis Phone Line at 1-855-CRISIS-1. Those struggling with suicidal thoughts can call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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