A query- why are bats associated with mental illness? Why is it we refer to someone as having “bats in the belfry” or call someone “batty” or “batshit crazy”? This is the line of rational thinking that becomes the focus of irrational thought in Submersive Productions latest endeavor, BATS at the Creative Alliance.
This solo show by Michele Minnick explores her own experiences with mental illness- from full-blown psychiatric episodes to milder diagnoses like generalized anxiety and depression. She often asks for audience participation, the answering of questions and polls, and takes us on an intellectual journey through the history of psychiatry as well as fundamental facts about bats.
As you arrive at Creative Alliance, you are ushered into the bar space which has a lovely painted back drop mural and moving projections floating about. A bartender serves up your poison, and you are asked to sit at a table. Word of caution though, the majority of the show is front and center of the bar area- so make sure to adjust your chair accordingly before the show begins. I am not that smart, and wrenched my neck a bit trying to turn for an hour. Ouch. The movement does extend to the entire space, but most of it is down front.
Michele Minnick is either speaking from personal experience on this topic, or she is a quality and insanely talented actor who convinced me that this was a personal story. From her two-tone white hair, the repetitive pushing of said hair out of her face in anxiety-fueled agitation; she captures the movements of a personality coming un-hinged. Her vindications were so plausible that you, the audience, are nodding along with her. She asks you, have you found yourself more anxious since the election? Have you noticed more polarizing behavior in the past year? Etc. Etc. The intimate space lends well to the idea that “we are all in this together.” Coupled with an accordion sing-along, the audience winds up on a journey along with Minnick and feels some of her extenuating issues viscerally.
Michele did tell us the night we went that the opening act had the flu. I assume that was Caitlin Bouxsein since she is the only missing component. Ursula Marcum, Jessica Rassp, and Glen Ricci offer support and additional back up. They fill in as doctors and polling assistants, and work the magically real puppets throughout the show. My personal favorite was “Ginny,” the embodiment of generalized anxiety. Her puppet body shock and wiggled the way anxiety often pushes a person to move beyond their own control. She looks how I feel after a long day at work. There is even a nod in the short program to Ernest Dimler for the loan of a vintage medicine bottle collection which I found myself looking at several times throughout the night.
The projections need a separate paragraph as well. The ones on the bar as you enter keep changing and metamorphosing, keep an eye on them. And the Illustrations by Chelsea Demitras that turn into moving graphic novel as a depiction of what is going on in the mind of a mental breakdown is mind-blowing. I noticed the audience so riveted many missed the minor movements of Minnick during the sequence.
The best part of my evening was not only watching Minnick masterfully engage the audience, but the coloring and note-taking on the table. Our table was quite vivacious. Not only because of my friend and I, but the other patrons as well. We began doodling, we began making commentary on what Minnick was discussing. Our doodles stemmed from her speeches and rants. Any art that inspires more art is damn good art. You can argue with me on the aesthetically properties, but inspiration and creativity are found everywhere. And when something moves you to create, take notice of that force.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Go. And take a table full of open-minded friends who don’t mind minor audience participation. From crafting and drawing to answering polls and assisting as needed, you will be called upon to dig within yourself and move slightly out of a comfort zone. But that is what Submersive is known for! Enjoy it! Revel in it! It is a delightful evening of exploration, engagement, and education. Appreciate the distraction to analyze someone else’s demons and ignore your own for an hour or so.
Running time about 95 minutes with no intermission. At the Creative Alliance through March 31st.