“All the Feels” brings mental health discussion to the forefront
Local performers showcase talents and triumphs with D.C. variety show
Mental health is a topic often ignored and left out of constructive conversations, despite its vast effect on the American population. Co-producers Kim Levone and Alison Cherry sought to change that narrative with a production about mental health at Union Stage on May 29.
“All the Feels: A Mental Health Variety Show” featured 10 performers who shared personal experiences through song, stand-up, storytelling and slam poetry. Their perfornances addressed topics including suicide, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, coming out, sexual abuse and body image.
Levone and Cherry wanted the show to build community and create a safe space to discuss the many facets of mental health.
“How many avenues are there to get a firsthand view of someone’s experience with mental health?” Levone said.
Cherry opened up the evening as the event’s emcee and emphasized the event’s intent to get people talking more openly about mental health, a topic she said she feels is often unaddressed.
“I graduated high school knowing more words for colors in Spanish than feelings in English,” Cherry said. “Which is only helpful if I’m feeling ‘azul.’”
Besides producing comedy, Levone is a social worker and often talks with people about their struggles with mental health. She didn’t see these conversations happening elsewhere, and was determined to find a way to widen the discussion. So when she and Cherry came up with the idea to produce a show together about a year ago, they immediately knew they would focus on mental health.
Both Levone and Cherry work in comedy, but they decided on a variety show in order to allow room for people to express themselves in whatever way they feel most comfortable.
“I didn’t want to limit the show by having the expectation that everything on stage was going to be funny,” Levone said. “It didn’t really feel authentic to people being honest about their mental health stuff.”
The performers in the show presented a range in talent and life experience. From poetry to stand up comedy, each performance used unique art mediums to discuss topics like depression and substance abuse.
Some of those on stage at “All the Feels” said that sharing their story was cathartic and gratifying. Eighteen-year-old singer-songwriter Gabrielle Zwi said she used songwriting to deal with her depression, specifically in the wake of coming out as queer in middle school.
“I believe that music can really change hearts and minds,” Zwi said. “So, I try to perform and write songs that promote peace and acceptance.”
Other performers, like Episcopal Priest Joani Peacock and actor Mikael Johnson, showed their prowess in storytelling on stage.
Peacock detailed some of her experiences with manic depression, explaining how it’s given her a broader perspective even though she’s struggled with it at times. She said she is confident that sharing her story can be inspiring and helpful for others who relate to her in any way.
“I think by telling our truth we are being our most authentic,” Peacock said. “We’re going to do the best work of our lives—the best ministry in my world, my life—and my telling my story has helped lots of other people tell their stories and be open about it.”
Peacock has performed stories at a variety of venues for the past few months, and the “All the Feels” show was the last stop on her crusade. As a priest “in a storytelling profession,” Peacock said she finds performing to be more energizing than anything else.
“I’m a big extrovert and I love the energy of a live performance and a live audience,” Peacock said. “So I usually feel like I’m on cloud nine when I get off the stage.”
Johnson’s story was focused on his experiences dealing with depression, substance abuse and other abuses he endured at a young age. He said that shows like “All the Feels” can be beneficial for both the performers and the audience members.
Since so many people helped him through tough times, Johnson said the least he can do is give back to others in return.
“It’s part of my recovery process…to help other people, whether they’re alcoholics, drug addicts or people that are struggling with, you know, XYZ mental health,” Johnson said.
Johnson previously performed with Story District with Peacock, where they shared similar stories as the ones from “All the Feels.”
While there are no more planned shows of “All the Feels,” the performers and producers attested to the positive community building that came out of it.
“When we were going on stage, some people were nervous beforehand and everyone just helped each other out,” Zwi said. “It was a really wonderful space to be in.”
Levone said she had a great experience co-producing the show, and thinks the production is just the beginning for more spaces that encourage conversations surrounding mental health.
“We definitely feel like we are at the forefront of something,” Levone said.