TUNB put the spotlight on mental health issues from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 with their performance of Matthew Heiti’s Black Dog: 4 Vs. the Wrld.
Black Dog has been described as an “innovative” play about mental health, which seeks to meld mental health issues together with the new power of technology, both in life and on stage. Written for teenagers experiencing difficulty anywhere on the mental health spectrum, the show’s main characters play out the realities of struggling teenagers.
Black Dog aims to highlight the stigma around mental health issues. Heiti said he wanted to show that this subject is “universal”, and intense mental health experiences like clinical depression are “only a few steps away from something relatable like lowercase ‘d’ depression.”
As his mother was a mental health nurse for over 30 years, Heiti has a personal connection to mental health issues. “The discussion of mental health was something we talked about all the time around the dinner table,” he said.
When Heiti was first commissioned by the Sudbury Theatre Company to write a piece on mental health however, he declined the offer. Heiti is more of a story-focused playwright, and he didn’t want to do a topic piece that might jeopardize a more compelling tale.
He reevaluated his decision when he realized the importance of discussing mental health. Heiti decided to craft a show that could help show those struggling with mental illness the importance of “togetherness.”
“[You can’t] hold mental health issues inside because that’s when they create a problem,” Heiti said.
Heiti saw a video while researching for his work that depicted people with the title of their mental illness preceding their real name. The video showed how damaging it is to see people as “just their labels, just their illnesses, and how we often put people into boxes and define them by their illness,” Heiti said.
In this respect, he numbered Black Dog’s main characters 1, 2 ,3, 4 and 5 to show how we often put people into convenient categories that suit our perspectives.
Austin Taylor, playing 5, said, “Although this show focuses on mental illness, it’s applicable to any group of people helping each other deal with anything.”
Alexe LaPointe, in the role of 2, felt her character presented a new way of expressing her feelings that wasn’t available to her before acting. “I couldn’t say those things myself but I had the opportunity to do it now through the character,” LaPointe said.