My heart is hurting hearing the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. Especially the day after achieving such a triumphant “victory” over my own depression with the opening night of my autobiographical show, Depression: The Musical, at the New York International Fringe Festival.
Dead Poets Society affected me so much when it came out my junior year of high school and probably kept me from losing my mind at the time because at least I knew I wasn’t alone. Carpe Diem became my official motto, even though I struggled for so many years to actually live it. Now, perfectly enough, I am forced to live “one day at a time” in recovery.
Robin Williams is quoted on the title cover page of my show: “Freud: If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.” There’s also a Nietzsche quote, but I wanted to balance it out with humor. Too often, comic genius and depression go hand in hand.
This is a reminder that I have to continue to be vigilant with treating my illness on a daily basis for the rest of my life. Depression doesn’t care how much success you have or how loved you are by others. Depression doesn’t let you see that. I have to continue to talk about it openly and not isolate myself with it because, like others have posted, depression lies. Depression tells your brain things that aren’t true if you don’t check them with those around you who care.
I really don’t know why some people get (and “get”) the help they need and some don’t.
One of Robin William’s lines from Dead Poet’s Society: “Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that.”
“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world” – Robin Williams
Get your FringeNYC tickets for “Depression: The Musical” here: http://www.fringenyc.org/index.php/shows/buying-tickets
Produced by Kirsten Major & Reynolds Lassiter.
Music, lyrics & book by Marianne Pillsbury.
Directed by Gretchen Cryer.
Choreography by David Eggers.
Music Direction by Micah Young.
Cast: Marianne Pillsbury, Vanessa Theus, Hayley Bridgewater, Hillary Maloney.
Stage Manager: Charles Casano.
Illustration by Julie West.
Pill bottle photography by Neil Raphan.
Crowdfunding video by Meg Skaff.
Press photo by Tony Correa.
I just launched the RocketHub crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds I need to produce my show “Depression: The Musical (A Depressed Girl’s Guide To Depression)” at The New York International Fringe Festival this August! It’s a darkly humorous pop-rock musical about falling apart and putting yourself back together.
I’ve been writing and developing this project for about six years now, but I’ve been living it for the past 22 years. You might even say that this story has been in the making for the past 42 years! So, yes, this is my “baby” and, yes, it’s been a long, slow, sometimes painful labor.
However, writing this musical and sharing my experience with depression has been an empowering and healing experience for me. I hope that, by sharing it, I will give hope to others affected by depression, and, really, anyone who has ever struggled in their life.
More fun facts about me: I left behind a lucrative career as an advertising copywriter to focus on songwriting and using my talents for good causes like Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls and Jazz Foundation of America, and “Depression: The Musical” is what has come out of that. My song “Boo Hoo” from my debut album, The Wrong Marianne, won Best Alt/Rock song in the Great American Song Contest and has been adapted for this show.
Now I’m throwing myself and my show at the mercy of friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, social media followers, and any random person who comes across the campaign to help me make it happen!
It seemed wrong to me for Hedwig, the outsider, the “internationally ignored song stylist,” to make it to Broadway; but, now that I’ve seen the Broadway production, it seems oh-so-right.
First let me say that I am not a “Hedhead” from back in the day. I’m definitely a huge fan, but I was not introduced to the show until about 6 years ago when I started writing my own show, “Depression: The Musical.” I was referred to the show because of the similarities with my show in terms of dealing with a difficult/taboo subject in a musical and using rock music. I first watched the movie. It wasn’t until last year at the PortFringe festival in Portland, Maine, that I saw a stage production. And it was just a week ago that I went to the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center to view the original stage production of Hedwig with John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask at the Jane Street Theater. Then just a week later I saw the Broadway version starring Neil Patrick Harris (who I have always thought of as Doogie Howser…never saw How I Met Your Mother).
First of all, I am so happy they stayed true to the original stage production (vs. the movie). Except of course using the setting of the Belasco Theatre and the abandoned set of the fictional Hurt Locker The Musical, which was used brilliantly by the way. And, the fake Hurt Locker Playbills strewn in the audience are amazing! (I want the creative brains that worked on putting this production together to work on my show!)
Good move to wait for Neil Patrick Harris to be available. (They waited 2 years, I think.) I was so worried at first. Who could possibly replace John Cameron Mitchell or equal or top his performance? Well, NPH does better than that: he doesn’t replace JCM but does his own version of Hedwig, not quite as sad and a bit more bitchy. I love his interplay with the audience, especially when he told the people in the box seats to stop whining about their partial view when there were people in the back standing through the whole show.
It is so encouraging to me that a show like this is on Broadway. I just wonder what those Midwesterners are thinking when Hedwig talks about his botched sex change operation! I heard that JCM says Hedwig does not speak for the trans community since she is not trans by choice. Perhaps that technicality makes her story more digestible to Broadway audiences?
The beauty of the show is that it doesn’t matter if you can relate to the specific details of Hedwig’s life. You don’t have to be a transgender rocker from East Berlin to relate to the feelings.
One small but important change that seems to have been made in the script is when Hedwig introduces her fragrance “Atrocity”…in the original, she says the tagline is “For a man. Or a woman. Or a freak.” But NPH (possibly ad libbing?) says “For a man. Or a woman. Or a man/woman. Or a woman/man.” I was relieved to not hear the word “freak.”
I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the show (despite the man with the largest head ever sitting right in front of me). Worth every cent of the $152 dollars I paid to be in the back of the orchestra. Oh, I forgot to mention that I tried the lottery but there were about 100 people who entered for the 8 or so tickets they gave out. I said, fuck it, I need to see this show before they win all those Tony Awards, which they did! So I bought a ticket at the box office. Hint: Even when they say the show is sold out, they seem to have a few tickets each night available for purchase.
During the “Midnight Radio” finale song, I found myself unexpectedly sobbing. I mean, not just tears running down my face but convulsing with sobs. Here’s the part in the song where it happened…
AND ALL THE STRANGE ROCK AND ROLLERS
YOU KNOW YOU’RE DOING ALL RIGHT
SO HOLD ON TO EACH OTHER
YOU GOTTA HOLD ON TONIGHT
AND YOU’RE SHINING
LIKE THE BRIGHTEST STARS
ON THE MIDNIGHT RADIO
AND YOU’R SPINNING
YOUR NEW 45S
ALL THE MISFITS AND THE LOSERS
YEAH, YOU KNOW YOU’RE ROCK AND ROLLERS
SPINNING TO YOUR ROCK AND ROLL
I definitely felt like one of the misfit, loser, strange rock and rollers the song was talking to and it felt cathartic to be reassured that there was a place in the world for me. Even on Broadway! It took over 10 years for Hedwig to make it to Broadway. I haven’t even debuted my show yet (this August at The New York International Fringe Festival!) but have been writing and developing it for 6 years already.
I came home that night and immediately bought the original soundtrack on iTunes (which I had been meaning to do anyway) because I wanted to experience nothing but Hedwig for the rest of the night. I will surely buy the Broadway soundtrack too as Tits of Clay are the tightest rock band I have ever seen/heard live. Their rocking so hard really completed the experience. (Also, shout out to Lena Hall who was amazing as Yitzhak as evidenced by her Tony win!) Stephen Trask’s songs are awesome. They are self-contained rock songs — some more punk rock, some more glam — that stand on their own outside the context of the show but also tell the story within the show, which is similar to the songs in my show.
Experiencing Hedwig live made me realize how much I want to maintain the rock integrity of my songs. However, unlike Hedwig, the conceit of my show is not me performing live on stage with a band. It’s more like me telling my story live on stage with a band present and a chorus of backup singers who are maybe possibly in my head? But, yeah, I want to preserve the rock-and-roll vibe and not give in to the temptation to polish things up for the musical theatre world. Thanks, Hedwig.
Lastly, let me just say that the biggest compliment paid to my show thus far was someone comparing it to Hedwig in its “emotional honesty” and universal appeal. Totally flattered and pleased. Hope I can live up to this.
I spent this Mother’s Day helping my mom clean and de-clutter her garage and the storage space adjacent. Started going through some of the plastic bins I have stored there. In one that was filled with cards and letters, mostly from my adolescence, college years and 20s, I found the many cards sent to me by my mother with words of encouragement, especially during college. And it was…honestly…well…surprising. I realized how much my depression cast dark shadows over everything good in my life, including my memories.
Reading this card (pictured below) just about broke my heart.
College was when my depression and its sidekick, alcoholism, really kicked into high gear. The stress and anxiety of being a big (small-town-valedictorian) fish in a big (Ivy-League-everyone-here-was-valedictorian) pond was tremendous, and I did not have the emotional coping skills to handle it.
I remember how miserable I was. I remember overeating and gaining more than the Freshman 15. I remember (at least I think I do) the many regrettable nights I drank way too much and made stupid choices or put myself in dangerous situations. I remember being on academic probation by the end of my freshman year. I remember how my college boyfriend broke up with me because I was so depressed and he didn’t know how to help me.
But I don’t remember my mom sending these cards. I don’t remember her saying and acknowledging the things she does in this particular card. She really DID do the best she could and has always supported me in HER OWN way, which was definitely NOT the way I wanted her to. I spent many years in denial of this, not accepting her the way she is, and not appreciating the support she had to offer. That’s the part I dramatize in “Depression: The Musical” but I’m glad I can give a fuller picture of her here. Yes, my mom IS a zany character whose wackiness did not need to be exaggerated in my script, but she is also a real life mother with problems of her own, loving and supporting a creative, willful, highly sensitive daughter with depression as best she can…which it just so happens leads to unintentional comedy more often than not.
I think I’m going to end up re-blogging a lot of stuff from this blog, so you might just want to follow it yourself! But, yes, it is very difficult to be friends with someone who is depressed. I’ve experienced this from both sides now.
I definitely lost many friends along the way due to my lack of interaction (not returning calls, emails or showing up where I say I’m going to) or my bursts of anger at the world or my excessive drinking to escape my feelings and the resulting obnoxiousness. I had a whole group of friends dump me at once. I had someone who I thought was my BFF for life, who I talked to every day for 7 years, who made me the godmother of her child, unceremoniously dump me because she thought she was “enabling” me (to be depressed I guess?) She’s also the one who asked me if being depressed meant I couldn’t entertain myself in my head!
I also had a good friend and songwriter (who remained my friend through it all – thank you!) who wrote a song about my depression and how it affected her/our friendship. That was intense but enlightening. Maybe I’ll post it someone, with her permission.
Now, being on the other side of a long-term depressive period and putting my story out there as honestly as I am with “Depression: The Musical,” I am coming into contact with more people who suffer with depression or learning about the depression I didn’t know people in my life were suffering with. And, you know what, it’s hard. It’s hard even though I’ve been through it myself. It’s hard BECAUSE I’ve been through it myself, and I know there’s nothing I can say to make it better, no suggestion I can make really. I mean, I can share what has worked for me, but it’s so complicated…it wasn’t one simple magical cure. It was years of trying different things and different combinations of things. And they’ve just got to go through it and find their own way out.
But I can remain their friend and not cut them out of my life because they’re “toxic.” Of course I don’t have to take on their depression and try to fix it or let it bring me down. And of course you don’t want to spend copious amounts with someone who’s depressed; it does affect you. But it’s not contagious, really.
Stephen Fry is a great advocate for people suffering mental ill health. He is living proof that people can bear the burden of mental illness and still have success in life.
Successful comedian, actor, writer, presenter and activist, Fry himself battles with manic depression. It has not stopped him from being who he is – one of the greatest wits and intellects of our time.
Depression doesn’t define us. Someone can suffers from depression – or any other mental illness for that matter – and still have one of the greatest personalities you will come across. The stigma attached to depression suggests that a depressed person is just that – a depressed person. Someone who is labelled “mentally ill.” Someone incapable of ordinary human interaction. Someone to be avoided.
This is one of the great tragedies of mental illness. Friendships become more distant and some people can dissappear entirely from…
View original post 120 more words
GREAT NEWS: We just found out last night that “Depression: The Musical” got accepted into THE NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL FRINGE FESTIVAL! This means we will be doing 5 full performances (dates TBA) sometime between August 8 and 23 at a New York City theater TBA. There are over 800 applicants to FringeNYC, and only about 200 shows get selected. We are sooooo excited!
This will be the world debut of the show. (We have previously only done staged readings.) This means a full band, choreography, costumes, set design, lights! I never thought his day would come! Learning to live with and manage my depression has taken many, many years and a lot of work, which has certainly prepared me for the years and work it has taken and will take to get this show out to the world! So grateful.
I tried to read his book but did not get very far into it because it hit way too close to home. No, not just close…every word pierced me deeply in the core of my being. I admire the effort it must have taken to put together this tome. I’m trying to watch this video in tiny clips. He opens the talk by quoting Emily Dickinson’s “I Felt A Funeral In My Brain”. Based on that alone, I would recommend this video for those who want to understand depression better.