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Real-life stories of mental illness

LAS CRUCES – Every production of “Minds Interrupted,” a heartfelt, intimate theater piece aimed at removing the stigma of mental illness, is unique.

That’s because the show, if it can be called that, is structured on a series of autobiographical monologues by regular people, nonactors, from the local community, discussing how they have grappled with some form of mental illness, or been affected by mental illness in a loved one.

On Monday in Las Cruces, the curtain will rise on the latest staging of a theater piece first produced in 2008 in Santa Fe by two of that city’s residents, therapist Michele Herling and journalist and playwright Rosemary Zibart.

“Minds Interrupted”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday
WHERE: Rio Grande Theatre, Las Cruces
HOW MUCH: $10 apiece, but scholarship tickets are available. Get tickets through NAMI of Doña Ana County, 575-386-6890, or online at www.nami-dac.org

The pair, who both have family members who struggled with mental illness, met in 2007 in a National Alliance on Mental Illness course in Santa Fe called Family to Family. Zibart said she witnessed the profound impact that sharing stories about mental illness had on course participants, and she and Herling were inspired to become advocates through storytelling.

Herling said the production, more than anything else, is a “community building event” that uses real stories to cultivate compassion and understanding and reduce the isolation felt by those dealing with mental illness, whether their own or that of a loved one.

“If you have cancer or diabetes, people will send you a get-well card, but if you have mental illness, people tend to walk in the other direction. They feel so uncomfortable, they don’t know what to say,” Herling said. “Let’s remove the stigma. Let’s get people talking about it so they feel comfortable seeking the help they need at the earliest possible date.”

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Monday’s audience will hear stories about bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

To get the monologues, Zibart gathered reflections from the “performers” through a series of spontaneous writing exercises, then boiled down the material and edited scripts, the original authors having final say.

While the compressed writing and editing process can be nerve-wracking, Zibart said, “Every single time it’s turned out to be great and exceeded our expectations in terms of the impact.”

Since its first staging in Santa Fe in 2008, “Minds Interrupted” has been produced in Albuquerque, Española, Los Alamos, Baltimore and St. Paul, Minn.

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