Talking about mental health, in one act play

  • John Stark senior Ryan Flaherty is directing the one-act play “I Don't Want to Talk About It,” by Bradley Hayward, which addresses some of the mental health challenges that teenagers can face, including bullying, eating disorders, loss of a loved one and suicide. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • John Stark senior Ryan Flaherty is directing the one-act play “I Don't Want to Talk About It” by Bradley Hayward, which addresses some of the mental health challenges that teenagers can face, including bullying, eating disorders, loss of a loved one and suicide. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • John Stark senior Ryan Flaherty is directing the one-act play “I Don't Want to Talk About It”  by Bradley Hayward, which addresses some of the mental health challenges that teenagers can face, including bullying, eating disorders, loss of a loved one and suicide. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/9/2021 9:58:21 PM

Ryan Flaherty wants teens to speak up more about their mental health, and the 17-year-old is staging a play next week for his senior capstone project at John Stark high school that aims to start that conversation.

Flaherty is directing the one-act play I Don’t Want to Talk About It, by Bradley Hayward, which addresses some of the mental health challenges that teenagers can face, including bullying, eating disorders, loss of a loved one and suicide.

“A lot of people, their only exposure to it is in health class, where it’s like ‘this is anxiety and depression, these are the common symptoms,’ ” Flaherty said. “But I think doing it through art, whether it’s drawing, painting, photography or theater – live art – it’s a different way to look at it, and it gives different perspectives on it.”

In the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 31.8% of Concord-area high schoolers said that they felt sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks during the past year, so much so that they stopped doing some usual activities. Flaherty, who got into acting and doing theater tech at a young age, says mental illness has affected him personally, as well as some of his family members and classmates. So when he found I Don’t Want to Talk About It, the play seemed like the perfect fit.

“The pandemic definitely sent me into kind of a deep depression because I couldn’t go out, because I am a social butterfly, I’m the talkative friend of the group,” Flaherty said. “Not having that ability to socialize with friends, having to find different ways threw me off. I think being able to be back to doing live theater is a great way to help a lot of actors.”

The play I Don’t Want to Talk About It has only been performed once before in New Hampshire, by Oyster River High School in 2015, according to the website Playscripts, which licenses performances. The play follows the adolescent main character, Kyle, and her classmates through light and dark moments as they recall their stories through a series of monologues. Flaherty, who plans to be a musical theater major in college, said it feels different to be in the director’s role, making the blocking and set decisions.

At John Stark High School, seniors are expected to clock 35 hours of independent learning for their capstone projects, logging their experiences and present the project for evaluation in order to graduate. Flaherty believes that between research and rehearsals, he has already put in more than 63 hours.

“This is student-directed, student-chosen; for him to identify this is something teens can relate to, I think that means much more than if it were adult-directed,” said school psychologist Tammy Zielinski. “It’s very courageous that Ryan has tackled this in such a unique way. He’s been doing a wonderful job with it.”

Because of the play’s challenging subject matter, Zielinski and adjustment counselor Denise Getman have offered support to the student actors throughout the rehearsal process. Flaherty said the cast and crew of I Don’t Want to Talk About It has met for group therapy to discuss mental health, and one-on-one sessions are available as well.

“The irony in the title, it speaks to the fact that its so important to talk about it,” Zielinski said. “We always hope that every adolescent has at least one trusted adult they can go to, regardless of what the situation is. We go over that in health classes when we talk about suicide prevention.”

Flaherty, who is in the same age bracket as the play’s characters, says teens don’t often talk about their problems openly, and believes that should change. As a way of encouraging change, Flaherty and John Stark are offering students an hour of community learning credit for attending the play and completing a survey, and can earn additional hour by participating in a talkback session with cast members after school, the week after the play.

“We mostly keep it into ourselves, we don’t reach out to talk about it and in the end it just hurts us more,” Flaherty said. “I hope seeing fictitious characters with similar mental health issues going on and talking about their problems will encourage other students and maybe even some adults to talk about it.”

I Don’t Want to Talk About It will be performed Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. and Oct. 16 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. The cast includes Becca Drabble, Kassidy Downing, Jillian Gagnon, Jenna Jezierski, Rose Kosciuszek, Lydia Richman, Braden Schou, Bree Souther, and Alexx Wilber. Tickets are $5 for students & seniors (65+) and $7 for adults. The show is rated PG-13 due to the serious subject matter.


Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.



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