Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: A Light in Dark Places will soon be launching its fourth annual production of A Light in Dark Places: A Collection of Plays for Hope (ALIDP) during Suicide Prevention Week next month. Kelly, as the founder of the organization, as well as the production’s director and producer, what initially inspired the genesis of this organization?
Kelly O’Malley: I personally experienced stigma, isolation, and shame after my father’s suicide. I wanted to reach out to others whose lives had been affected by suicide, so they didn’t have to experience that and also contribute to prevention. Suicide affects thousands upon thousands of people every year. Yet, we hesitate to talk about it. The communal aspect of theater allows us to safely approach difficult subjects, while reinforcing that we are not alone. I created ALIDP to break down barriers, introduce prevention resources, and offer hope. Ultimately, this annual series of short plays challenges the taboos and silence surrounding suicide that only make at-risk people more vulnerable.
BD: Given your efforts to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention, what do you feel has been one of the biggest myths about the topic that you have sought to educate others about?
KO: There is a myth that its best to avoid the topic of suicide if you believe someone is at risk. In fact, if you think someone is considering it, the best thing to do is to directly (and privately) ask them if they are thinking about suicide. Also, ninety percent of people who have died by suicide were suffering from a mental health condition at the time. But mental illness alone is not enough to be the sole cause. There are always multiple factors that intersect to bring someone to a moment of crisis. When we attempt to boil the cause down to just one thing it can be invalidating, both for those who have attempted and for suicide loss survivors.
Blake Lewis: There are misunderstandings surrounding the topic of suicide. Often, when family members or loved ones are asked if there were any clues that could have tipped them off prior to a tragedy taking place, they’ll say, “I had no idea.” And, they’re telling the truth. It’s not that people are purposefully neglecting the well-being of others. It’s that we, as a society, misconstrue what may lead to suicide. A lot of people believe that suicide is a result of external circumstances becoming too overwhelming. While things like financial stress, family tragedy, or relationship trouble may lead to a heightened risk of suicide, the problem is often internal. Individuals with suicidal ideation become more isolated, and they feel shame as a result of this perceived “weakness.” In order to fully understand the intricacies of what suicide entails, we need to feel comfortable enough to speak up when we find ourselves falling down that rabbit hole of despair.
BD: As part of the production, there will be four short plays that will seek to raise awareness of and discussion about the topic of suicide. What can you tell us about the premise of these shorts and the teams bringing them to life?
KO: This year’s shows are a mix of comedies and dramas, as well as a lovely poetic piece. Together, they take the audience through a journey that doesn’t shy away from the reality of suicide, while also leaving them with hope and connection. The stories are:
"What’d You Think?" by Blake Lewis
Director: Diane Devilers
Actors: Carlo Figlio and Zoe Kanters
Friends candidly discuss their differing opinions after attending a suicide prevention play series, ultimately leading to a deeper understanding of each other and their relationship.
"February" by Jessica Moss
Director: Caitlin Apparcel
Actors: Erika Garces and Kelly O’Malley
Two very different women meet on the subway with the same plan. Together, they chose life.
"Tag Sale" by Patricia Lawler Kenet
Director: JJ Mayes
Actors: Leon Russom (A Quiet Place, Prison Break) and Ruth Silveira
Old friends reconnect when one suspects that there’s more to the other’s tag sale than meets the eye.
"Brave Girl" by John Mabey
Director: César Di Bello
Actors: Alina Phelan (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and Samuel Hunter
A college student returns home with a secret and seeks comfort and guidance from his former Catholic high-school school teacher.
Our team of dedicated artists who are bringing these stories to life is incredible! Every year, I am overwhelmed by the level of talent and commitment our cast and crew show by donating their time to this cause.
BD: Blake and Caitlin, what enticed you to take part in the production, and how would you describe your process in working with your respective creative teams?
BL: I, myself, have struggled with suicidal ideation since I was 13 years old. For years I’ve struggled to develop tools to combat it and searched for some type of solution. I’m fortunate to have consistent support from loved ones and mental health professionals, but that’s not something that everyone is afforded. So, when Kelly presented this initiative, I thought it was a beautiful opportunity to contribute, even in a small way, to shedding some light and awareness on the subject for someone else’s benefit. I’ve directed a play for ALIDP, written two plays that have been presented, and been involved in behind-the-scenes elements since its inception. What I care about most is establishing a sense of comfort through collaboration with the sole intention of contributing something positive. The aim is to instill some sense of optimism in a subject that is too often shrouded in pessimism.
Caitlin Apparcel: I always wanted to be a part of this production. Kelly asked me to participate few years ago, and I remember internally freaking out because I wasn’t in the right head space. I have bouts of depression myself. So, I realized that being exposed to the material in ALIDP could have put me in a dark place; however, therapy can do wonders, and this year I’m ready and excited to be directing a play where we get to see how two strangers can connect and save one another. I’m having so much fun working with the actors in this piece. During this process, I have felt supported by Kelly and the ALIDP team. It’s my intent to provide a supportive process for my actors, as well. These pieces bring up difficult topics. But, we learn how important it is to open up and see that we are not alone.
BD: Why do you feel that these plays will most resonate with audiences, and what do you hope that they will take away from the production? Likewise, do you recommend a certain age group(s) for the production as a whole?
KO: I recommend ALIDP to everyone, from high-school age up. Mental health conditions don’t discriminate. They can affect anyone. So, the more people who are exposed to resources for hope and healing, the better. Part of the value of including multiple plays in ALIDP is that we have the opportunity to present stories that resonate with people of different ages, genders, lifestyles, and points of view. The aim is to have all audience members take away a sense of community and know that it’s okay to not be okay all the time. Help and hope is always available.
BL: It’s difficult to anticipate exactly what an audience’s reaction will be. The beauty of the format that Kelly has created is that the audience is offered a variety of different viewpoints in the form of these short plays. There’s no way to pinpoint why a given audience member is in the crowd on any given night. We have no idea what they have been through, or how they process this subject. What we do know is that we work diligently to present a curated set of materials that present a wide range of perspectives regarding the topic. My sole hope is that our audience walks away feeling a little less alone. If we provide them with a point of relatability or community that brings even a bit of light to their darkness, then we’ve done our job.
CA: The line-up that Kelly has created is really exciting to share. Although the topic is heavy, we see moments of lightness and laughter. It shows the different ways that people work through, speak up, or reach out in dark times. With so many different characters, all audience members will all find at least one that they connect with, whether they are going through something, have been through something, or know of someone who has. ALIDP empowers people to speak up and ask for help—something that I have had to learn to do along my own life journey. All the pieces reveal that there are different ways people with suicidal thoughts look and sound — there is no one “type.” It is so important to bring about awareness of this so that we can break down the stigma surrounding this important topic.
BD: The production will be running from September 6-8 and 13-15 at the Stella Adler Theater in Los Angeles, followed by a run in Dallas, TX, at the end of the month. What is the best way for our readers to garner tickets for the performances?
KO: Tickets can be purchased for the LA show at alidp.bpt.me, and for the Dallas show at alidptx.bpt.me.
BD: Are there any other upcoming shows or projects that you would care to share with our readers?
KO: After our 2019 production closes, look for information about ALIDP 2020 on our website at www.alightindarkplaces.org. Updates about play submission deadlines and auditions will be updated regularly.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about A Light in Dark Places: A Collection of Plays for Hope?
KO: Awareness of suicide prevention resources and knowing that help is out there can save lives. To stay up-to-date about ALIDP’s work, please follow us on Instagram at @alightindarkplaces, or like our page at facebook.com/playsforhope. Signing up for our mailing list is another great way to stay informed about what we’re up to. Just go to our website at: www.alightindarkplaces.org.