By Cody Blankenship
Suicide awareness, depression and coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender were issues raised by “Down in the Dumps,” an interactive theater performance, on Monday, Sept. 9.
The Performance was held in the University of West Florida Conference Center.
“Down in the Dumps” is an interactive theater performance put on by Theater Delta, a traveling group of actors that perform at colleges and universities nationwide. The theater calls itself an “interactive theater for social change.”
Ben Saypol, artistic director, said Theater Delta started when he was studying for his doctorate in theater.
“I discovered that I could actually combine my two biggest passions: theater and education,” Saypol said. “Theater can be used as a powerful tool to educate.”
Saypol also said he realized, after going to an applied theater workshop (theater with a purpose), that interactive theater was what he wanted to do.
“I want to use theater to educate,” Saypol said. “I want to get the audience involved. I want to get them talking about the issues and experiencing the issues.”
April Glenn, a student counseling specialist, said in an email, “Theater Delta piqued my interest because it seemed like a really innovative approach to social change and reaching students.”
Theater Delta traveled all the way from Chapel Hill, N.C., for the interactive performance that was meant to engage the audience with issues that were scripted.
The issues that “Down in the Dumps” addresses are common at colleges and universities nationwide. It covers struggles with coming out, depression, warning signs for suicide and ways to help a friend dealing with these issues.
The performance opened up into a scene with three friends: Chris, Cameron and Sarah. Chris and Sarah are dating, and Cameron is more distant, not to mention that she is having trouble coming out as a lesbian. Her friends try to intervene and discover what the issue is, but that doesn’t work. Later on in the scene, the thought of suicide lingers after Cameron becomes more distant from Chris and Sarah. Cameron leaves her belongings behind and feels like she is not wanted anymore.
After the scene, the audience gets a chance to interact with the three characters. Audience members can ask the characters questions about why they did certain things in the scene or how they felt about certain issues.
Richard Tabor, Gay Straight Alliance president, said that he hopes, “the performance allowed for the student to have an open dialogue with one another that opened both their minds and hearts to their peers’ feelings.”
Glenn said, “I was really impressed with the audience participation. I was touched by the courage of many students in sharing their personal stories. This intimate and caring atmosphere appeared to dissolve any stigma related to mental health in the room.
“My hope is that students took away the message that caring can make a big difference” Glenn said.
This event was made possible with the partnerships of UWF’s Students for Suicide Awareness, Suicide Outreach and Support and GSA for sponsoring the performance that captivated roughly 70 audience members.