Next to normal
A Vancouver musical is currently fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness
Tia Kutschera Fox // Opinions Editor
West Moon Theatre will be putting on a production of “Next to Normal,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, from Feb. 7 to 17 at Studio 16. The story chronicles the lives of Diana Goodman, a mother who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and her family who are inevitably affected.
The director, Chris Lam, decided to create a double cast for the production, an unusual move in the industry. “Double casting certainly isn’t great for my budget, but the thing about the double cast was, I had done two other shows in that format,” said Lam. “I really want to see just, other actors do the parts, I’m curious about their different interpretations.” A single show has a cast of six people, but with the double cast the total number of actors rises to 11. “I’m also trying to promote diverse casting and representation, young artists, with this cast it’s cross generational, so we have a mixture of professionals and recent graduates.”
Of the recent graduates in the cast, five are alumni of Capilano University’s Musical Theatre Program. One of which is Katrina Teitz, who graduated from the program this past Fall, and plays Natalie, the daughter of Diana. “She has grown up with her mom who’s been diagnosed manic depressive, but it seems like there’s a lot more going on,” said Teitz. “As Natalie kind of grows up with a mom who is eccentric, doesn’t seem to make it to her piano recitals, doesn’t seem to be a normal mom, she really craves stability but doesn’t get it. I think it’s a show that is really relevant to how people should be dealing with mental illness.”
Besides experience, the cast is also a diverse mix of ages and races. Teitz had spoken to a fellow actor before starting the show, Daren Dyhengco, and found out he was playing her brother in the show. “It was already set in my brain that the family had to make sense racially. But Chris Lam has gone ahead and just said you know, it doesn’t matter. I was just surprised because a lot of people are like ‘oh yeah they have to look like a family,’ all racially wise usually. If you look at the whole team, it’s a very diverse team.”
Lam chose a cast like this on purpose. “Diversity is important to me because in terms of our theatre ecology in Vancouver, you know the stories are changing. Certain different types of issues are being raised and I feel that we have to be more inclusive of the ecology of our city, and of the diverse types of people that live it in. Making sure that theatre is inclusive for everybody, at some level it’s all universal,” he said. “Because there are so few opportunities for actors of colour, it’s a practice for me so that actors of colour can feel that they can do these shows, feel that there are opportunities and feel that everyone is capable of telling many types of stories.”
When asked about the choice of musical, Lam answered thoughtfully. “I think there’s an interesting thing with Next to Normal – it doesn’t demonize the characters. I think it’s very gray. Everyone has to deal with a whole bunch of dilemmas, being medicated or not medicated, therapy or no therapy. Everyone is not good or bad, it’s just sort of open,” Lam explained. “Generally everyone in this play is just trying to help each other trying to save each other and love each other the best way they can, everyone in this play is flawed. By the end of the play people are going to make very difficult choices but it’s for the best.”
For more information on Next to Normal, and to pick up tickets, please visit: https://nexttonormalvan.brownpapertickets.com/. Tickets are $30 for the general public, and $25 if students bring valid ID.