‘Stuck Upstairs’ portrays students with mental illnesses

Stuck Upstairs was a rare and honest glimpse into the minds of those suffering from depression. It went beyond symptoms and diagnoses, transporting the audience on a harrowing journey.

Sarah Pier ’16 and Gabrielle DiBenedetto ’16 used interviews they had conducted with students suffering from depression to devise this honors thesis project. The interviews were beautifully pieced together into a cohesive piece of art that unabashedly addressed the ugly truths about what people suffering from depression experience on a daily basis.

The piece hinged on the experience of the interviewer, played by DiBenedetto, as she reflected on the words of the people she interviewed. The ensemble of actors comprised of Terah Ehigiator ’18, Morgan Harris ’19, Young Wuk (Woogie) Jung ’19, Moiz Rehan ’19, Christine Tamir ’18 and Chanel San ’16 represented real students coping with these very real issues. The ensemble’s passionate portrayal of  the ups and downs of living with a mental illness is especially notable considering that they were able to morph them-selves into many different characters over the course of the production.

Early in the performance, the actors all stood with their backs against the wall as if they were pinned there, spitting labels and diagnoses towards the audience, shifting in and out of dozens of characters and viewpoints in a matter of minutes.

In addition to the fluidity of the characters and viewpoints, the stage underwent a clear transformation throughout the show. While it remained a bedroom throughout the entire performance, it changed along with the minds of the characters, becoming a hospital room at one point, a dreamscape in another, a safe space for one person and a cage for the next.

At one point, the room was utterly destroyed and then, in a particularly powerful moment near the show’s conclusion, the ensemble worked together to put the room back in order as they spoke of their strides forward, their hopes for the future and the strength with which they face each day.

It is also notable how well music was incorporated into the performance. The tone of the show was enhanced by the frantic, busy instrumental piece that opened it; the bluesy, haunting song that was used in a frightening and dark dream sequence and the lighter, hopeful tune that brought the show to a close. The ethereal music gave the show an other-worldly quality, which is fitting as the audience really did experience another world, a world in which we can actually see the pain and suffering experienced by those with depression and mental illnesses.

Amidst the interesting images and evocative movements happening onstage, it was often hard to remember that these stories are not fictitious, but the sobering dialogue acted as a consistent reminder. The “characters” are people, who struggle to get out of bed in the morning, face judgment from their families and/or think about suicide on a daily basis.

At the end of the performance, when the lights went down, there was no immediate praise. There was instead a prolonged, reflective silence before the audience broke into thunderous applause, almost as if the audience needed a moment to absorb what they had seen, to break the spell that had captivated them for the past hour and to consider the truth behind this piece.

The truth that was best put into words by the interviewees themselves and remained at the heart of this performance: No one should be defined by his or her mental illness because anyone can get stuck upstairs.

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