The mental health of children is a key component of a new stage production at the Theatre of Youth (TOY) in Buffalo. The Boy at the Edge of Everything opens Saturday, January 20th. WBFO's senior reporter says for the first time TOY and the Mental Health Association of Erie County are collaborating to spark an important conversation in our community.
“Simon Ives, age 12-years and four-months and ten days – not counting leaps years because I don’t,” said the actor during recent rehearsal at the Theatre of Youth.
The charter, 12-year-old, Simon Ives, is an over-scheduled child feeling stressed.
“When we meet him, his life is overcrowded and he’s overwhelmed. He has Taekwondo, he has math club, he has soccer practice, he has music practice – he has all of these things – which are wonderful individually, but it’s gotten to the point in his life he is feeling overwhelmed,” said Meg Quinn, artistic director TOY.
The charter Simon is depicted in two worlds.
“He has an adventure, which becomes a time-travel adventure basically through space – the other end of the universe where he meets a boy at the edge of everything – who has nothing to do but observed the world and the two of them meet,” described Quinn.
“This is a tough time to be a young person,” declared Ken Houseknecht, executive director, Mental Health Association of Erie County
The mental health of children is a key component of a new collaboration.
“This generation is facing challenges that no prior generation has faced. Certainly technology and the volume of information that they are exposed to – the pace that it comes at them – the immediacy of it all – the expectations,” Houseknecht noted.
The Boy at the Edge of Everything is funny and outrageous to help children learn a message about being 'healthy'.
“We have a guest director, Chris Kelly, who usually does the show at this time of year for us and he works with you kids. He teaches theater in a school, so he is very much in tune with high school kids, what they are thinking and feeling, so he was really excited about this and he has a lot of insights into it that are just so real and right on the money and it’s just so inventive. I think the kids will be somewhat mesmerized and fascinated – they’re going to have to think as they watch because you don’t sit back at let this play kind of happen – you have to engage – you have to listen,” remarked Quinn.
“We want people to feel like their soul has been touched and if that soul’s been broken or wounded in some way or feels vulnerable and weak, we want to provide an opportunity for there to be healing and for there to be a strengthening of these souls because these are our young people – these are our children – this is our future,” Houseknecht responded.
At the end of each, show TOY always conducts a talk-back with the audience. With this production of The Boy at the Edge of Everything
It will also provide critical information for children. They’ll learn they can connect with someone so they don't feel alone in their stressed out lives.
“Coming to the theater and siting in a room with 400 other kids and sharing the show and having the conversation afterwards – I think it brings the humanity of life and communication up close and personal,” Quinn said.
“This is a cleverly, well-told story where these issues naturally and spontaneously arise and this will be comfortable and organic having these conversations. We’re talking about life – you know we are talking about a part of life – you know we are talking about how you deal with time pressures, how do you deal with an intrusive technology – how do you deal with the world that these kids were born into – a world that they’ve never know anything different from,” Houseknecht explained.
Houseknecht and Quinn tell WBFO they hope this could launch a community-wide conversation for parents, teachers and adults about the mental health of children, pointing to the high rates of anxiety, depression, self-medicating and suicide.
“One of the things we want to make a point about is if we have stirred things up – if we have a kid thinking and kid wanting to – like ‘what do I do next’ – ‘I have a lot of these feelings’ – that’s our connection with our Mental Health Association. We are going to be providing some information so kids know there’s some existing programs –they can make a call,” Quinn described.
“This is speaking to one of the biggest challenges of our time and I think it is doing so in a way that’s light, that’s fun – that’s fanciful – but the subject matter is deadly serious – I mean it’s deadly serious because for a lot of these young people, as we know, they’re dealing with a level of anxiety from this type of a life that they find themselves living, which transitions into depression for many of them – that they medicate through drugs and alcohol – you know some feel that their best option is to end their lives – you these are terrible realities that we are all facing,” Houseknecht declared.
Because the play is so powerful and relatable for children, it has been translated into six languages. TOY's production is on stage through February 4th.