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As normal as it gets: University Players to perform 'Next to Normal' on campus



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IU students rehearse for the upcoming production of “Next to Normal.” This student-produced musical will run Feb. 1-2 at the Studio Theatre in the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center. Alexa Ennis Buy Photos

The Tony award-winning Broadway musical "Next to Normal" will be performed at 7:30 and 11 p.m. Feb. 1 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 by IU’s University Players. 

All performances at the Studio Theatre in Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center are sold out. Email universityplayersiub@gmail.com to be put on the waitlist for tickets.

The musical follows a family struggling with its mother’s worsening bipolar disorder. The musical won three Tony Awards in 2009 and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010.

The cast and crew have been in hours-long rehearsals all week in preparation for the weekend’s performances. The show’s director, sophomore musical theater major Kyle Mason, said he hopes audiences learn to be more comfortable with discussing mental health after the show. This is something that’s especially important on a college campus.

“By professors and by other faculty, we are pushed to do the most, and that can have an effect on your mental state,” Mason said.

Students involved in the show said they certainly understand the pressure to perform.

“It’s been a whirlwind, honestly,” said Tess Bladow, sophomore arts management major and the show’s stage manager. “With student theater, you face more challenges.”

But the cast and crew are certainly reaping the rewards of those challenges, said Caroline Santiago Turner, a freshman musical theater major playing the role of Natalie.

“The fact that we put on this show by ourselves is very valuable training,” she said.

In preparation for the show, cast members met with a local mental health professional who works with patients with bipolar disorder and similar illnesses and their families.

“In order to do it justice, we needed to know what it’s really like so that we can better approach the subject,” Santiago Turner said. “It can be dramatic, but also accurate.”

Programs to be handed out at each performance will include information on local mental health resources, including Counseling and Psychological Services offered at the IU Health Center.

“Every family has an underlying dysfunction and things that make them not-so-normal,” Santiago Turner said.

“Next to Normal” may be the story of a family in crisis, but Bladow said the cast hope it’s one audiences can relate to.

“I feel like there’s an element of everyone in every character,” Bladow said. 

The mother, Diana, has been struggling with bipolar disorder for years while her husband, Dan, tries to keep their family from falling apart. Natalie, their 16-year-old daughter, comes off as rebellious, maybe even self-centered, but under the surface she cares about her family and friends and struggles with feeling invisible.

“There’s a pressure on families to put out that perfect suburban household aura that makes a lot of families hide issues,” Bladow said.

Bladow said the cast hope the show can send a message to audiences of all ages that it’s OK to struggle, and it’s OK to talk about it. The show seems to beg the question, in Mason’s words, “What is normal, anyway?”

CORRECTION: A previous version of the "If you go..." box in this article listed an extra showtime. The IDS regrets this error.

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