Dramatic storytelling breaks down mental health barriers January 29, 2016 4:30 pm • By Maria Sestito Read original article in NapaValleyRegister.com Over the past two years, On the Move’s Innovations Project has orchestrated a community conversation about mental illness and its stigma, which shrivels lives. The group brought together 30 people – service providers and mental health consumers – to start the conversation about mental illness as well as aid an under-served community. These efforts culminated Wednesday night in “Turning Points” – a display of quotes, images, mosaics and searing moments of theater that told the stories of 153 Napa residents. The crowd walking into the Jarvis Conservatory was greeted with the faces of locals, the night’s storytellers, and the photos of individuals who participated in Innovations Project. that were posted everywhere. Beside their photographs were quotes. They read: “I still keep so much inside.” “I’m starting to accept the love I deserve.” “I’m not alone.” When the sold-out show began, people scrambled to find a place to sit. More quotes came through the speakers. The audience was silent, but not for long. Musician Melanie DeMore and the McPherson Neighborhood Leadership Academy Children and Youth came out, wielding colorful pounding sticks, and encouraging the audience to clap along, sing along and even stand up. The kids wore black T-shirts with the words “everybody has a story…” printed on them. The message of the music was to be there for one another and not to give up on the ones you love. “The most precious thing we can do for each other is to be there,” DeMore said. Then it was time for Living Arts Playback Theatre, a drama therapy group based in Emeryville. Through music and drama, director Armand Volkas’ actors portrayed their own stories – one would tell his or her story, then the others would act it out – literally and emotionally. Then it was the audience’s turn to share individual stories and see them spontaneously acted out on stage by members of the Playback Theatre. A woman told of being abused as a child, becoming a runaway at age 14 and falling into foster care. The actors captured her shakiness, uncertainty, frustration, anger, sadness and fear. As the actress who played her simulated the audience member’s journey, she was attacked by monsters portrayed by colorful scarves. The monsters were the naysayers and the negative thoughts and feelings she had been holding onto. As the drama played out, the woman was shown love. Through therapy, she learned that she was a good person and deserving of love. The audience member cried at seeing the emotional turbulence of her life played out in the show. “It was amazing,” she said afterward. “I remember feeling like that,” the next storyteller said of their rendition of her own story. “I felt like I could breathe,” said an audience member. Throughout each story, people wiped away tears, sniffled and shared in the laughter. The details of each story looked different, but people can always find points of connection, explained Colter Diehl, one of the coaches for the Innovation Project, after the show. Because of the stigma, many people will feel shame over their mental illness and keep their stories to themselves, he said. This project provided people with a safe place, a judgment-free zone, to share their stories. Storytelling can be “healing,” he said. Jessica Hulin, a participating therapist, said that no matter who you are, something at Turning Points would resonate with you. Pain, sorrow and hope are universal, she added. Hulin cried during the show, touched by the vulnerability expressed by the audience members and actors. The project, she said, has been “undoubtedly one of the best things I’ve done.” “This is a love project,” she said. The original group of 30 individuals is finishing up with the Innovations Project. The project will continue with a new group of individuals. For more information on the Innovations Project, visit onthemovebayarea.org/innovations-project.