On Oct. 6, Southern Miss’ Department of Theatre debuted “Next to Normal,” its first play of the semester.
As of now, the production’s first four shows have sold out.
The rock musical centers around love, sympathy and tragedy and chronicles the experiences of an American family suffering from mental illness.
Robin Aronson, director of “Next to Normal” and professor of voice and acting at Southern Miss, said she believes the play relates to many lives.
“It’s a really touching story,” Aronson said. “It’s very personal, but I also think it’s universal, because everyone is dealing with something in their family or in their life. Tragedies happen. How somebody gets over it and survives, I think, is very applicable to people.”
Crew members began preparing for “Next to Normal” at the end of 2015. Once the show was chosen, Aronson was given a design team who attempted to strengthen the play’s universality.
“For one, [I wanted] the students to have a really good experience in this theatrical venue and to be very collaborative and work with everyone on the team and tell the story,” Aronson said. “Everybody on the artistic team and the cast really felt very strongly and passionately about this story. So, I think that brought it to life. I think the audience is having a reaction and is affected by it. Therefore, it’s successful.”
Rehearsals began at the beginning of the fall 2016 semester.
Lisa Malloy, cast as Natalie Goodman, said she hopes to bring a message to audience members.
“It’s a show, but we’re not putting on a show,” Malloy said. “These characters don’t know that they’re in a rock musical. This play gives representation to people who live in families or have had families like this who have never seen themselves represented in such a way.”
Melissa Angelo, a University of Southern Mississippi graduate student cast as Diana, said she believes this play can help correct false preconceptions about mental illness.
“Things like this aren’t talked about often,” Angelo said. “I know so many families who have lost children. They don’t even say their names. Your brain is an organ, and it works and functions just like the rest of your body. It is not a stigma that needs to be pushed under the rug. It’s not something that you can just get over. This is real. This is what people go through. It needs to be talked about.”
Cast members hope to continue having a supportive audience throughout the fall semester.
“Theater is an art form, and there’s a reason why we do it,” Angelo said. “It’s to make people stop their day-to-day lives and think, to see what’s right in front of them.”
Tickets are still being sold for Oct. 14 and 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 16 at 2 p.m. in USM’s Hartwig Theatre.
The department’s next performance will be “Silent Sky” on Nov. 3.