Photo: Courtesy of Alicia Brownell
CryBaby is a stage play that addresses mental health issues through education, dialogue, entertainment and most importantly by providing resources. We spoke with Alexius Rayford who produces and stars in the play along with Dr. Anitra Shelton-Quinn whose professional expertise offers authenticity to the subject matter.
You both produce and star in the upcoming stage play CryBaby which addresses mental illness. Tell us about the project?
This play really begins two months after Jennie ( the main character) has her first child. She is bombarded by the demands of motherhood, the need to care for her husband and the unrealistic expectations of womanhood placed upon her by her mother-in-law Carol, what should have been a joyous event for Jennie has turned into a roller coaster of emotions and a struggle to keep her life afloat.
With the help of her best friend Monica and her new neighbor Wayne, Jennie attempts to rebuild her life. However, everyone is not rooting for Jennie’s recovery. In fact, someone is poisoning Jennie’s family against her and exploiting her diagnosis of postpartum depression. So Jennie has to deal with her own mental decline and an unknown betrayer with their own private struggles.
You play the role of Monica. Explain your character and a real life experience that influenced your involvement with the play?
Monica is a very intricate character with many layers. She plays Jennie’s best friend and envies her family life. Not wanting to be an old maid she attempts to find satisfaction somewhere between her lonesome life and the one she hopes for.
As for myself, being a young mother at 18, just graduating high school was a huge reality check. I dealt with post-partum depression for years and didn’t even realize it. I had to overcome insurmountable economic obstacles and dealt with thoughts of not growing up fast enough but too fast for my immature lifestyle. I too envied those who chose wisely and went to college, married, got the house, and the “planned” kids. I soon realized I had no hope or assistance in overcoming my situation. I really think if I had someone who could have given me guidance then I would have had brighter days.
What challenges did you take on from that of producer and actress? Share something you learned about yourself in the process.
Well to be totally honest, this is the first production I’ve acted and produced all in the same project. My main challenge is switching hats from producer to actress and vice versa. In one sense I have to completely deny that I’m a producer on this project or this would be a one-woman show. Being an actress really takes consistent dedication because I’m a method actress. I have to walk, talk, and be Monica as often as possible, which doesn’t coincide with my natural self. For example, if we can be mothers, wives, career women all at the same time why can’t I produce and act and be successful at it? I have come to believe that nothing is impossible and balance is key.
Will you be doing more producing and acting in the future?
Most definitely, I produced and acted in a short film currently in post-production and I am in the development stages of my new film “Choices”.
Why should audiences see CryBaby?
It’s really a question of are you willing to be entertained? And not in the sense of a short changed dramedy but seeing a production with depth. Willing to embrace every moment occurring on that stage. Are you willing to learn, grow, and see yourself as any one of those characters? And if the answer is YES, then you have no choice but to come.
Dr. Anitra Shelton-Quinn
As a psychologist and accomplished author, you support the stage play CryBaby by offering your expert insight regarding mental illness. What were you able to share with the cast?
Yes, I am both excited & in great support of the play, CryBaby, as such visible & meaningful platforms like this provide much-needed awareness about mental illness. Particularly, given that approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness & suicide being the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10–24 and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15–24.
What is one thing most people still don’t know about mental illness that we can learn from in the play?
Due to the fact that there are a preponderance of stereotypes and myths about mental health, the need continues to persist, to convey an understanding that mental illness is real and not fabricated. Mental illnesses are true biologically based illnesses that interfere with a person’s functioning and performance in relationships, on their job, in school, or other areas of their lives that are meaningful.
Why should audiences see CryBaby?
Performing arts works such as CryBaby provide audiences with such rich & invaluable insight, which helps to demystify stereotypes & foster acceptance, respect & understanding for those affected by mental illness.
Who or what replenishes you in a profession where you are constantly addressing the needs of others?
In general, it is imperative for anyone working in the mental health field to employ a regimen of self-care. For me personally, I like to keep a piece perspective, recognizing that when I have done my very best and given my all to ensure the safety and betterment of a child or family, that God will do the rest. In addition, I maintain a lifestyle rooted in prayer & worship with respected self-time activities including exercise, spending quality time with family & loved ones, & making everyday intentional.
CRYBABY IS A (J A SMTH, IBG & TRINITIE PRODUCTION). THE PLAY DEBUTS SATURDAY, MAY 6 AT THE ENCORE THEATRE (HOUSTON)
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