As mentioned in my previous post, We Are the Hopeful is a 2-week Second Stage Design-Led Exploration about mental health. Second Stage Shows are student proposed projects that run for either 2 weeks, 5 weeks or 12 weeks and are performed in the basement of Mundelein – a rather smaller but cozier space compared to the Newhart. This does have its benefits and has proven to allow a large extent of creativity and experimentation for the students as it is a black box theatre space. 

We Are the Hopeful was created by sophomore Molly Cornell, a fellow Sophomore majoring in Theatre and minoring in WSGS and Studio Art. And I feel so so blessed to have been given the opportunity to work alongside her on this incredible project!  


Within two weeks, nine designs scripted, directed and designed seven performances each touching on a different area of mental health. Lab and rehearsal times took place both after class hours and on the weekends. My partner was sophomore Gianni Carcagno – a very very talented designer – and our piece “playing pretend” focused on Derealization Disorder. Derealization Disorder is the repeated perception or experience that the world around you is not real. It is the feeling of being ‘not there.’ The piece consisted of three experiential spoken word poems written by me and was recited by freshman Faith Hood amongst atmospheric and stimulating sound and lighting design. We crafted a piece of abstraction, in hopes to introduce a less talked about reality.  

Other topics, including anxiety and eating disorders, were explored through movement, personal writings, and even audience participation to create the feeling of claustrophobia. It means a lot that we got this opportunity to not only raise awareness about a topic so often stigmatized but also explore our relationship with it as humans and artists ourselves. 

We had the chance to tinker with a lighting and sound board and their respective design programs. We were visited by our design professors as well as other professionals in the lighting and sound design fields. We got to audition and work with enthusiastic theatre majors and non-theatre major performers. But most of all we all stepped out of our comfort zones. Many of us were freshmen or production newbies who had never come close to cue sheets let alone a tech board. I personally am a playwrighting and directing focused theatre maker. Design wise, I was more experienced in costume and sound design coming into the project. Although I was lucky to work with an experienced tech master like Gianni, we coordinated so that we were both exploring new areas. I took on the challenge of lighting design – a venture I had also found less comfort in during the Design II class I was taking during this same semester. 

This was probably one of the most challenging experiences for me as a writer AND DESIGNER (!!!!) I spent many days simply sitting by the lighting board, turning on and off every single light and relearning techniques. I felt quite overwhelmed at times but with these talents, their patience, silliness and encouragement, it felt also rewardingly comforting. I never saw fear in asking for help. And I felt less absent. 

Dissociation isn’t a new friend of mine, and I am grateful for this exploration because art is what keeps me present when I feel like I am not. I’m still learning about derealization disorder – I hope you are too. 



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