Spotlight Theatre artistic director Glynis Calhoun believes in the power of theater to explore important issues. Last year, her company took on teen suicide with the play "The Girl in the Mirror."
She arranged for school counselors and suicide prevention experts to attend the performances, answer questions and offer insight into the issue in a state where the suicide rate is consistently higher than the national average.
"We're trying to make connections with the community through theater," Calhoun says.
It's easy to do with popular musicals such "Grease," "Hairspray" and "Footloose." It's more challenging with shows such as "The Girl in the Mirror" and Calhoun's next project, the Idaho community theater premiere of "Next to Normal," a riveting musical about mental illness. It runs for the next two weekends.
"'Next to Normal' has been a dream for a long time," Calhoun says. "When you're in theater, there are shows that speak to you. The music is hauntingly beautifully and it's amazing how many people take the message of the show and relate it to their own lives."
Spotlight is a mentoring theater company that grew out of the drama program at Columbia High School in Nampa, where Calhoun teaches drama. Her casts include students and adults who work and perform together to create theater.
This Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book/lyrics) musical won multiple Tony Awards in 2009 and the Pulitzer Prize for theater in 2010.
Its central character is Diana (Calhoun), a mother and housewife who struggles with bipolar disorder. The play explores the effects of both her illness and its treatment on her family and the people in her life.
Spotlight is partnering with the Idaho chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness during the production. NAMI is a volunteer-based organization that offers resources and support for people with mental illness and their families. The group will have a presence and a volunteer at each performance.
"It's a great chance for us to get out into the community and let people know we're here," NAMI board president Ken Weiner says. "We're an under-used resource in Idaho."
Though there isn't a formal discussion planned, the cast and NAMI volunteers will be on hand to answer questions after each show.
"We really want to encourage a conversation with anyone who wants to talk about the issue," Calhoun says.
The goal, Calhoun says, is to teach her company that the power of theater can transform lives and that the "community" in community theater is a two-way street.
It's about performers being part of the community, and creating performances that are relevant. [0x0b]
IDAHO AT THE TONYS
The Tony Awards are June 8, and this year there are several cool Idaho connections.
Estelle Parsons, one of the theater world's legendary performers, is nominated for Best Actress in Eric Coble's "Velocity of Autumn." That play was workshopped at McCall's Seven Devils Playwrights Conference and received its world premiere at Boise Contemporary Theater in 2010.
Also, past Seven Devils guest artist and Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Schenkkan is nominated for his play "All The Way," along with its star, Bryan Cranston, who plays President Lyndon Johnson. Schenkkan and Cranston won Drama Desk Awards in their categories last week.
The musical "Beautiful," based on the life and music of longtime Idaho resident Carole King, is nominated for seven Tonys, including Best Musical.
Its star, Jessie Mueller, won the Drama Desk for her performance as King. But because no new music was written for it, the show is not nominated for its hit-filled score.
Id Theater's Seven Devils Playwrights Conference runs from June 9 to June 21. Find more information at IdTheater.org/seven-devils.
'ADD THE WORDS' ON FILM
Idaho filmmakers Cammie Pavesic and Michael D. Gough will screen their documentary about the campaign to add the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the Idaho Human Rights Act.
You can see "Add the Words" at a test screening at 6 p.m. June 15 at the Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St. Tickets are $15 at the box office.
The film follows the campaign as it turned into a movement during the past Legislative session, and its supporters amped up their actions into civil disobedience that resulted in multiple arrests.
Pavesic and Gough were inspired to pick up cameras when they saw 44 protesters arrested on TV news, Gough says.
They worked quickly, thinking they would make a short documentary, but they ended up making a feature-length film.