“How long have you had a mask?”

A summer research project uses theatre to illuminate mental illness.

Kelly Holm, Senior Reporter

Unlike a couple of other recent Anne Simley shows you might have heard of, “Shell of a Person,” performed on the eve of March 6, featured no flashy dragons. Nor are there fancy costumes or elaborate set pieces that might explode in unlucky students’ faces. But in spite of the fact that “Shell of a Person” was a one-time-only event, it aims to have a life beyond the auditorium stage.

Written by senior Emily “Remi” Remmey and directed by 2011 graduate Joe Allen, the short play is the brainchild of the former’s Undergraduate Summer Collaborative Research project for her theatre and business double major. Remmey, inspired by her high school struggles with anxiety and depression, spent months perusing resources for teens and young adults battling the disorders, reading stories of others’ lived experiences, and finally crafting the script. Only thirty minutes long, “Shell of a Person” is the story of Grace (played by first-year Emma Coleman), a high school senior wrangling with depression, whose family and friends struggle to comprehend the issues she struggles to comprehend herself.

The play was presented in a “theater in the round” style. In lieu of having the audience sit in Anne Simley’s traditional rows of seats, folding chairs on raised platforms were placed on the stage itself, surrounding the performance space on all sides. The cast, which also included sophomores Grace Bauer, Kira Paul, Autumn Wilkie and Kyrin Sturdivant, wore all black, presumably to convey both stripped-down simplicity and the darkness of depression. Only Coleman’s Grace boasted any sort of accessory to her apparel: a white mask reminiscent of a CPR dummy, which she did not pull down to cover her face but instead wore atop her head, only removing it when she at last began to open up about her struggles to Wilkie’s Carmen. While lines were not memorized, the presence of scripts in the actors’ hands did not distract from the story.

The most compelling aspect of the show was when the supporting characters blurred into a chorus, swarming around Grace while chanting the admonitions of her inner monologue and sticking Post-It notes to her back. This is never addressed in the script the way the mask is, but it is apparent the Post-Its are meant to convey the way excessive self-criticism weighs Grace down.

The play’s brief length and austere set make it difficult to get lost in the atmosphere of the production. However, its brevity has merit: “Shell of a Person” is to be presented within the duration of a high school class, in order to be performed for the teen audiences toward whom it is geared. Though its primary purpose is to give a voice to adolescents’ concerns, it could also be a suitable choice for a one-act play competition, if Remmey chooses to copyright and market it.