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THEATER | "Further Fidgety Fairy Tales," a "mental health musical," comes to the Basilica
“What we’re trying to do…is present this idea that the best way for people to live is to be in community with each other, and to care about each other and to accept each other,” composer and lyricist Marya Hart, 53, said when talking about her latest children’s musical, “Further Fidgety Fairy Tales.”
Hart is currently on the teaching faculty at the Children’s Theatre Company. This is her third installment of “Fidgety Fairy Tales.” Hart has been writing music for, as well as playing piano during, performances of “Fidgety Fairy Tales” after taking her sole focus away from music “for about a decade.” She found it “hard to make a living” playing music at clubs.
Each of the three installments of “Further Fidgety Fairy Tales,” the third of which is playing at the Basilica of St. Mary this Saturday, revolves around popular fairy tale characters, like Goldilocks and the male version of Cinderella, Cinderedward. The twist in these fairy tales is that the main characters are depicted as trying to cope with a mental illness. Goldilocks has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Cinderedward has Bipolar Disorder.
“The idea is you’re trying to teach about mental illness and remove stigma,” Hart said about the musicals. Hart, who collaborates with script-writer Matt Jenson, said “we spend forever trying to figure out how we’re going to do it.”
During the beginning stages of the Fidgety musicals, Hart said she liked doing a lot of improvisation with the children she was working with.
“That didn’t work at all,” Hart said. “You have to be really particular about your words.”
The children, who in the current manifestation of the show range from age 9 to 17, give Hart something she claims she couldn’t even get from adults.
“They’re some pretty talented kids, and they’re really committed to it,” Hart said. “Most adult casts, I can’t get them to sing three-part harmony,” she added as she let out a roaring laugh.
“It feels like it’s really taken off,” she said about “Further Fidgety Fairy Tales,” noting that “it was rougher for the [previous] two [installments].”
“Further Fidgety Fairy Tales” has its final show in May; however, it will revived in the fall for a tour of various schools.
When it comes to being an educator on mental illness, Hart says she tries to wrap her head around the disorder. She says she and Jenson “try to figure out what is the current consensus in the psychology community about a particular mental health issue, so [we] can be accurate.”
According to the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health, “Twenty-one percent of children and adolescents have a behavioral, emotional, or mental health problem,” while roughly three million American children meet the clinical criteria for mood disorders.
A study conducted by sociology professor Bernice Pescosolido found that 47 percent of people said they desired social distance from a person depicted as having major depressive disorder. The participants in the survey watched a skit where the person was shown to be socially withdrawn, have feelings of worthlessness, fatigue, and insomnia, according to the American Journal of Public Health.
“The idea is that the person with the mental health disorder is the hero of the story,” Hart said. “Maybe you have something that can be cured, or maybe you don’t, but we’re all in this together. That’s the overriding idea,” she said.
“When we look at the stigma, it’s like, what are these behaviors that someone has, what are the misunderstandings, and how can we reframe those?”
The show, which runs about 45 minutes, is broken into three separate fairy tales, each dealing with a separate mental illness. In this show the three are bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Tourette syndrome. Each of the three stories are also confined to a particular music type.
“This one,” Hart said, “I went for distinct musical styles for each [story].” Boyd, in "The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is represented by western sheep herder music; Cinderedward is ”grandiose” and “Elvis-like,” while Goldilocks is a “neurotic Diana Ross,” and “a little funkier than Motown.”
The show, Hart says “is kinda fun, and cheery and funny.” But, she adds, it also helps people “know there’s more than one way to live."
©2011 Jose Munoz