Erasing the Distance Artistic Director Amy Sarno shares how she came to build The Holidays Unwrapped, a music-filled performance that braids together the real stories of nine people. The show is an exploration of how to manage stress during the holiday season.
Why did you want to do a holiday show?
During the holiday season, many feel anxiety and depression. The expectations and family dynamics can be triggers for people, both individuals with mental health issues and people learning how to create a healthy life. Plus, I wanted to explore how people experience the holidays, then a month down the line, they remember them through rose-colored glasses. They begin to crave an ideal holiday experience. So, by the time the next holiday rolls around, people are planning for a perfect holiday. Including expectations of how everyone in their families will behave. Which, of course, we don’t have control over.
Did you have a holiday show in mind when you were collecting the stories?
Yes, I collected these stories specifically for The Holidays Unwrapped. As I went through the process, I realized I’d collected a lot of stories about family angst. What I was intrigued by was that many families with difficult histories had found a way to create new traditions. New activities enjoyed by everyone in the family. For example, one family started taking the polar plunge, and they all enjoyed joking around with one another so they created a tradition that encouraged that playfulness. While each story is unique, the stories in The Holidays Unwrapped are similar in that they are about creating a holiday that brings each individual joy.
How did you find a fresh approach to the topic of the holidays?
Honesty. Here at Erasing the Distance, all of our work is from interviews. These stories are true stories. Stories about how we live, how we navigate the holidays, our families, our lives.
What can audience members learn from The Holidays Unwrapped ?
Love. I think The Holidays Unwrapped is about loving ourselves and our families, despite our differences. And I think plays, especially plays produced by documentary theater companies like Erasing the Distance, help people understand the human experience. Sharing true stories helps people feel less alone and recognize that mental health issues are a part of life. What people take away from viewing our work has a lot to do with what they bring to the performance. Noticing how their life has been impacted by mental health issues and recognizing how many people are coping with issues in their own lives.
Is there space for individuals to share their personal holiday stories?
Yes, as with all our shows, there is a discussion led by a facilitator after every performance of The Holidays Unwrapped. Also, we have included mental health tips and a link to the mental health resources page of our website in the playbill. So, while the discussion after The Holidays Unwrapped is short, if someone wants to dive deeper into their mental health experiences over the holiday season, we’ve given them the avenues to do so.
The Holidays Unwrapped was devised by Steve O’Connell, Katie Relkin, and Amy Sarno.
Photography: Mali Anderson