Combating Depression with a Year of Free Theater

The Marsh announces a GoFundMe campaign to present free performances of Brian Copeland's solo show on his own struggles with depression and suicidal thought, The Waiting Period, for a year, with a particular focus on outreach to those suffering from depression or surviving the loss of a loved one to the disease. (Photo: Carla Befera)

Theater artist Brian Copeland’s one-man show The Waiting Period, which premiered at the Marsh San Francisco in 2012, is all about grappling with suicidal depression and what to do when you feel like nothing can be done. Despite the bleak subject matter, it’s a wonderfully funny show that explores some of the darkest depths of the human psyche.

Now the Marsh wants to present The Waiting Period for free so that as many people as possible who might be struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts can see the show. The longtime hub for solo performance has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $150,000 to show The Waiting Period free to the public every Sunday night in 2016.

“Suicide among high school kids and college kids is through the roof,” Copeland says. “And a $30 to $100 ticket is not something that’s affordable to everyone and certainly is not something that’s affordable to a student. So that’s where the idea came from that I should just give this show away.”

A local comedian and talk show host, Copeland set the record for longest-running solo show in San Francisco history with 2004’s Not a Genuine Black Man at the Marsh, about growing up in one of the first African American families in San Leandro when it was still known as one of America’s most racist suburbs.

Brian Copeland details his own struggles with depression and suicidal thought in the solo show The Waiting Period. (Photo: Carla Befera)
Brian Copeland details his own struggles with depression and suicidal thought in the solo show The Waiting Period. (Photo: Carla Befera)

Copeland was having a particularly hard year in 2008. His grandmother died, his marriage fell apart, and he was badly injured in a car accident. Things got so bad that he bought a handgun with the intention of committing suicide. But in California, there’s a 10-day waiting period before you can actually take a firearm home, and during those 10 days Copeland got through the worst of his depression.

In The Waiting Period, he tells the audience all about what he went through during that time-span — and, most importantly, how he came out of it.

His message, he says, is, “Tell somebody.”

“If I can stand up here for 75 minutes and spill my guts to strangers, you can certainly tell your husband that this is what you’re thinking about while he’s at work,” Copeland says. “You can certainly tell your parents that this is what you’re thinking about when you’re sitting in your room with the door closed and they think you’re studying.”

To get the show out to people who might need to see it most, Copeland plans to do a lot of outreach with the counseling departments at local schools to get their students to come see the show, as well as getting the word out through organizations such as San Francisco Suicide Prevention. Copeland also plans to continue taking the show to some junior colleges and other schools.

“I really struggled with bringing it to the campus because it really is very much an emotional performance,” says Lavinia Zanassi, a career counselor at Skyline College in San Bruno, who had to have a lot of conversations with her colleagues about whether tackling this subject might be too difficult for some students.

“The impact it had on the students, although it may have been painful for some of them, it was in a positive way,” Zanassi says. “I have had a good 10 students to date coming to me and saying, ‘Thank you so much for doing this. It was a conversation I needed to hear. Something about this presentation touched me.’ It’s been with students that have been depressed themselves, and also with students who have had suicide in their families. If I’m asked was it worth it, I’d have to say absolutely.”

 

Combating Depression with a Year of Free Theater 25 June,2015Sam Hurwitt

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Sam Hurwitt

Sam Hurwitt is a freelance theater critic for KQED Arts, the Marin Independent Journal and the San Jose Mercury News in addition to his own theater and culture blog, The Idiolect.  You can find him on Twitter cleverly camouflaged as shurwitt.

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