A Short Play About Planet Earth

Grand Avenue Club premieres collaborative play created by people with mental illness.

By - Feb 14th, 2017 03:10 pm
Cast of "The Best Place on Planet Earth." Photo by Dale Hester.

Cast of “The Best Place on Planet Earth.” Photo by Dale Hester.

The Milwaukee Public Theater, in collaboration with the Grand Avenue Club (GAC) in Milwaukee, present The Best Place on Planet Earth, a set of staged readings and original works on Wednesday, February 15. The Club provides a safe place for people with mental illness and offers a wide array of services.

The play is a relatively short at 40 minutes and the curtain will rise at 4:00. After the play, the audience is invited to take part in a talkback session with MPT’s Barbara Leigh and longtime Milwaukee theater pro Diane Johnson, who are working with the GAC Players Clubhouse, whose colleagues’ writings form the “soul” of this production. In the show, members share their stories and often jump into improvisation.

Patrick Murphy doing his monologue with Trixie Morse in the background. Photo by Dale Hester.

Patrick Murphy doing his monologue with Trixie Morse in the background. Photo by Dale Hester.

GAC was founded in Milwaukee in 1991 by a coalition of 23 community organizations that included psychiatric patients, family members, advocates, service providers, and concerned citizens. With start-up funding from the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division, GAC established a pre-vocational day program and an evening, weekend, and holiday program.

The club also provides help for members with finding and maintaining their own housing and acquiring services and resources in the community that will enhance their lives.

Milwaukee Public Theater has a profound belief that the arts are a healing resource that must be available to all people, regardless of age, ability/disability, culture, ethnicity or income level.

MPT started as a two-person company of mimes, musicians and storytellers and has grown into a multi-faceted outreach arts organization working with over 100 artists from a vast array of cultures and arts disciplines and reaching 80,000-90,000 people annually.

Barbara Leigh, Carl Lockrem, Grand Avenue Club Board President Mary Kay Braza and Diane Johnson. Photo by Dale Hester.

Barbara Leigh, Carl Lockrem, Grand Avenue Club Board President Mary Kay Braza and Diane Johnson. Photo by Dale Hester.

Diane Johnson is the owner of the Modjeska Theater in Milwaukee and lent her talents to the production. She and Leigh oversaw the construction of the script, which is comprised of club member’s writings and experiences.

“It’s really been inspiring to work with club members,” Johnson says. “Some parts of the show are funny and some move your heart. I think the performers are very invested and this project has meant a lot to them. Even some staff members are in it. I can’t say enough about how warm hearted and inspiring this experience has been for me.”

Johnson says she’s been able to assemble about a dozen sessions with the club members, crafting the scripts and rehearsing.

“They talk about the club and their lives, experiences in general. Each week we gave them a writing assignment and they brought back a great deal of material. I’ve worked with all populations and all ages, middle school, high school. This group is the most open and willing to invest and try almost anything without hesitation. My mother had manic depression and I’m comfortable with these folks.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, psychologists have cautiously begun looking at how the arts might be used in a variety of ways to heal emotional injuries, increase understanding of oneself and others, develop a capacity for self-reflection, reduce symptoms and alter behaviors and thinking patterns. Art can be a refuge from the intense emotions associated with illness, and yet can still be fun.

The Best Place on Planet Earth will be performed on Wednesday, February 15, on the 4th floor of the Grand Avenue Club at 604 N. Water Street with doors opening at 3:45. Light refreshments will be served. There is no admission fee.

2 thoughts on “Theater: A Short Play About Planet Earth”

  1. Sharon Fedderly says:

    Thanks for the great article about the wonderful collaboration between Milwaukee Public Theater and the Grand Avenue Club. Grand Avenue Club teaches all of us that living with a mental illness does not have to be what defines a person. There is great community, creativity and caring among the members and staff of GAC, and I’m glad they have an opportunity to share it all with the Milwaukee community.

  2. I was in the play and we really got a lot done in a fairly short time to get the play out and performed. It was memorable,

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