Hope is Alive! Increases Awareness and Inspires Others
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Talk About It
By Claudia Mosby
Photos by James Mazzotta
Having launched and successfully sustained the Brave Faces, a speakers’ bureau organized by the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency’s Stand Against Stigma campaign, Marc Dadigan was on the lookout for yet another creative way to increase awareness about mental illness when he happened upon a flyer about a poetry open mic night in Redding.
A community educator, Dadigan contacted event organizer Brandon Leake and persuaded him to make the theme suicide prevention.
“I basically hijacked his event,” says Dadigan. “Since storytelling with the Brave Faces has been such a great medium, we thought poetry would also work well.”
The Hope Is Alive! Open Mic Night debuted during Suicide Prevention Week in September 2014, and Dadigan has been scheduling quarterly performances since, framing his advertising as an invitation.
“We encourage people to share how music or poetry has helped them through difficult times,” he says. “Some performers talk openly about their mental health challenge and inspire others.”
Still other performers have educated themselves more about mental health to make their messages more impactful, says Dadigan, adding, “Through the course of a performance evening, I’ve had audience members approach me, so we’ve provided intervention in that way, too.”
The shows draw a diversity of styles and performers, and Dadigan says, “It’s a great symbol of how the open mics bring people together. Talking about adversity and how we get through it bridges gaps.”
Hope Is Alive! is open to all performance artists. Although it is not a requirement to participate, Dadigan says, “Most of our regular performers have personal experience with mental health challenges.”
Amanda Flowers Peterson
Medium: Spoken Word
Role: Event MC
When Dadigan invited friend Amanda Flowers Peterson to perform at Hope Is Alive!, she says, “I was so scared, I almost talked myself out of going three times. It was that fact that helped me know I had to be brave and go.”
After the first event, Dadigan’s co-founder Leake graduated from college and moved away, creating an opening for Flowers Peterson to step into the emcee role. “I typically share first and it opens for others the door to artistic license to share authentically,” she says. “I think my experiences provide a space to welcome others in.”
Flowers Peterson believes performing promotes personal, generational and communal healing, adding, “My pieces are inclusive. Not all of the stories have happened to me personally; sometimes I am taking the voice of the daughter of generations of my family.”
She views the acknowledgment of such public performance as healing. “When we stand, and applaud their bravery, when we cry at the brilliant and creative display of their story, we honor them,” she says, noting, “Honor is something often lost when getting help with mental illness.”
Steve F. Stoore (Stu)
Medium: Music – Guitar & Voice
Steve “Stu” Stoore saw a flyer promoting Hope Is Alive! and at first thought it was a talent show. “So, I showed up, guitar in hand, ready to go,” he says. “I started with a high-energy country song before I realized it wasn’t what I thought it was.”
He says he found himself “hooked on” Dadigan and the other performers and their stories. “I instantly believed in what he was doing,” says Stoore. “If Hope is Alive! can level the stigma of mental illness, I am all in. Until I became involved, I was just another ignorant individual regarding mental illness and was afraid to approach it.”
Stoore views his role mainly as an entertainer, but says he sometimes speaks about personal mental illness in his family and at times about family members who have attempted suicide.
“I like to perform, and even better if it is with purpose,” says Stoore. “Hope Is Alive! has a purpose.”
Medium: Dance, Poetry & Prose, Song
As a child, and adult, with attachment disorder and borderline personality disorder, Sarah Clark says, “Everything I did was a performance, often accompanied by high anxiety because everyone else was part of an audience I had to please and impress. Every minute was lived on the brink of failure.”
One afternoon Clark spied Dadigan hanging posters around Burney for a Hope Is Alive! event. “I love the performing arts, so I followed him around asking all sorts of questions,” says Clark, who attended the open mic night and presented a reading and two Israeli dances with the Burney World Dancers.
“I feel especially blessed to be part of Hope is Alive!,” says Clark, who derives several benefits from performing. “It connects me with people who have faced mental health challenges, so I have some company. But it also provides a venue for public mental health, a rare invitation to share in a public setting, the heart of a life. That is a real treasure to me.”
Thanks to the help of many people, Clark says, performance is no longer a way of life, but a discrete part of life. “It’s a joyful sharing,” she adds. “I hope that sharing some of my experience through the arts might encourage others.”