Voices From NEXT TO NORMAL and Beyond

Voices From NEXT TO NORMAL and Beyond

The Helen Dewit Jones Auditorium in the Texas Tech Museum was filled to the brim with audience members buzzing in anticipation for what would be one of the most powerful theatrical experiences of the 2012 Texas theatre season. Next to Normal: Arts and Community was to be not only a special preview presentation of Hub Theatre Group’s NEXT TO NORMAL but also a first glimpse at the new performance piece Voices From Lubbock and Beyond. Joining forces both on stage and with their community, a Lubbock, Texas husband and wife were about to ignite the spark of social change.

Bob & Paula Chanda

Paula and Bob Chanda (the wife and husband in question) sat in New York’s Booth Theatre on 45th Street watching the groundbreaking new musical, NEXT TO NORMAL. Just as audiences before them had been, the Chandas were floored, in awe, and inspired - describing the musical as exhibiting “the power of the arts to communicate the human condition in a uniquely compelling way”.

Bearing this evaluation in mind, mounting a production of the musical at Hub Theatre Group in Lubbock, Texas (at which Bob serves as Executive Director) was a no-brainer. And with the designation of May as National Mental Health Awareness Month, May 2012 struck the Chandas as the perfect time to slot the show. Their journey, which would permanently change the face of Texas theatre, had begun.

For those unfamiliar with Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey’s multi-Tony/Pulitzer Prize winning musical, NEXT TO NORMAL tells the story of a mother, Diana, struggling with worsening bipolar disorder. While exploring the effect the illness has on her family, including husband Dan, the musical also addresses a plethora of other modern day challenges. Grieving a loss, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry and suburban life, are all visited during the course of this two-act rock drama.

However, mounting a production of the deliciously challenging piece of musical theatre wasn’t enough for the Chandas. Being very vocal about their intent to reduce stigmas surrounding bipolar disorder and finding a way to educate the general public, Hub Theatre Group reached out to health institutions in the Lubbock area. To their delight, TrustPoint Hospital, University Medical Center, Covenant Hospital, and Lubbock Regional Mental Health Mental Retardation Center (MHMR) emerged as incredible supporters of the production.

Cathy Pope (R) and Lois Shields (L) of the Lubbock Regional Mental Health Mental Retardation Center

“I immediately saw the impact it could have,” said MHMR CEO Cathy Pope. “I was touched by their sincere desire to reduce stigma in our community where much work is needed.”

Making frequent appearances in the conversation, “stigma” resonates loudly as a challenge the Chandas meet with incredible passion. Says Bob, “When we think of mental illness we often get images of people who are very unlike us, different, almost frighteningly so. What NEXT TO NORMAL shows us and ‘Voices...’ reinforces, is that bipolar disorder can affect anyone, any family... anyone can have mental illness.”

The “Voices...” to which Bob refers is the final piece of the yummy theatrical experience pie being served by Hub Theatre Group. Drawing its text from some 20+ sources, including interviews conducted by Chanda himself, Voices From Lubbock and Beyond is a 5 actor performance piece focusing on personal stories dealing with bipolar disorder. With a running time of 10 minutes, the show is packed full of poignant moments.

“It was important that I make the voices speak to issues important to those who are really suffering,” remarks Bob. And after a preview performance of both Voices... and NEXT TO NORMAL at the April 6th event, Next to Normal: Arts and Community, it was clear Chanda’s brainchild did indeed speak to the issues.

“It drew the audience into the emotions of the illness,” described an individual in attendance. “[It] left me wanting to hear more.”

Sharing her delight with the evening, Pope (of MHMR) explained, “This is the first time in Lubbock we have had the opportunity to see an entertaining performance that also has the potential to open people’s minds and alter their world view.”

The Firehouse Theatre (click to enlarge)

With the opening night of Hub Theatre Group’s NEXT TO NORMAL rapidly approaching (May 18-20 & 25-27 at the Firehouse Theatre in the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Art), it’s certain the Chandas are in the thick of rehearsals. Going previously unmentioned, until now, they are also starring in the show, with Bob as Dan and Paula as Diana.

The finishing touches have been put on Voices... making it audience ready prior to each performance of Hub’s NEXT TO NORMAL; and with a small regional tour in the works, the Chandas are hoping to extend their anti-stigma message far beyond the Lubbock, Texas borders.

“I’m hoping to use this event as a template in other communities to provide educational opportunities,” Bob explained. “The arts are important because they tell the truth in a compelling way – a way that may move people to action.”

It’s our continuous goal at MTI to foster the development of moving theatrical pieces. The creativity, ingenuity, and passion exhibited by Bob and Paula Chanda, as well as Hub Theatre Group, brings us such joy. Their commitment to the positive changes that can be brought about by theatre and the arts alike is inspiring. We extend a massive congratulations to them, and wish them an copious amount of leg breaking.