“Next to Normal”: A rock and roll twist on the struggles of mental illness

Next to NormalBy Shannon Hoyt —

The Menomonie Theatre Guild (MTG) is eager to present their fall musical, “Next to Normal,” the first production of this year.

 

“Next to Normal” is a musical production that follows a mother’s experience with worsening bipolar disorder. The plot incorporates the perspectives of those who deal with and those who know someone dealing with a mental illness. As for the music, the characters are able to display their support, connections, exhaustions and stresses through the genre of Rock ‘n’ Roll.  

 

“It is really important to me to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness,” said Director Melissa Smith-Tourville. “I think that mental illness is no different than any other illness. I want to make sure that I am educating our community.”

 

Smith-Tourville is a second time director for the Menomonie Theatre Guild and president of the MTG Board of Directors. She has a master’s degree in social work and is clinically trained as a mental health professional. Smith-Tourville’s personal and professional experience with mental illness makes her a great asset in directing this production.  

 

“Next to Normal” is not only a new twist on mental illness, but also a new twist for MTG.  

 

“It is a controversial show and not something that we would typically do at the Mabel Tainter through the Menomonie Theatre Guild,” said Smith-Tourville.

 

However, participants were anxious to audition and take part in a performance so different from past MTG productions. On and off stage, even the University of Wisconsin–Stout students and alumni have contributed a great amount of time and effort into creating a successful show.     

 

Making her debut in the MTG studio is Jillian Phillips, a former business student and theatre participant of UW–Stout. Phillips is playing the role of Diana Goodman, a mother who struggles with bipolar disorder.  

 

“I think it is great that a theatre guild in a smaller city is really taking a risk on a show that may seem scary for some people,” said Phillips. “This show is about real life. It’s about you or your family or your neighbors.”

 

Participating in her second MTG production, Josie Salzman is a UW–Stout graduate with a degree in the Communications program. She is playing the role of Dr. Madden, Diana Goodman’s psychotherapist.  

 

“I think that when we look at art, we have to remember that it has the ability to start a lot of really important conversations. And they’re not always easy conversations,” said Salzman. “I think it’s really amazing that [MTG is] ready and willing to open that conversation up and to get the community involved.”

 

This production also includes current UW–Stout students. Behind the scenes are Corey Schoff, a junior in the information technology management program and Daniel Craig, a senior in the game design program with a concentration in computer science. Schoff is in charge of the sound design and Craig is in charge of the light design.  

 

With a majority of participants being UW–Stout students and alumni, Smith-Tourville hopes to not only educate the Menomonie community, but also the UW–Stout community.

 

“There are two aspects of the musical that I think would be very valuable to Stout students,” Smith-Tourville explained. “One is that it really is a millennial show. It’s the kind of show that [the younger] generation can get behind and really feel passionate about.

 

“In addition to that, [Stout] has a large population of professionals that will, at some point in their lives, if not regularly, interact and engage with people who are experiencing mental illness.”

 


The showings for “Next to Normal” will be October 16, 17, 23, 24 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 17, 18, 24, 25 at 2:00 p.m. in the Mabel Tainter Theatre.  Stoutonia Reader Special: Stoutonia readers will be entitled to $10.00 tickets to the opening night show Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m. by mentioning the Stoutonia article when they purchase their tickets.

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