How Musical Theatre Increased my Desire to be a Music Therapist
A Little Bit About Myself:
I am an international student currently studying Music Therapy in Universitas Pelita Harapan (UPH) in Indonesia. I was born in the Philippines, but I moved here when I was in 6th grade and have spent my middle school and high school here in Indonesia. During my last two years of high school, I already knew music therapy was what I wanted to take as my major. I attended college with eagerness and zeal, having been carefully planning out my future as a music therapist.
Parallel to that, a part of myself was also immensely obsessed with musical theatre. Two worlds seemed to manifest inside my head, which sometimes led to conflicting thoughts about how I saw myself in the future.
My two interests were contradictory to each other, being two extremes within the world of music. They seemed to be in constant uproar with each other. However, a situation presented itself when I landed the role of Gabe Goodman in the Broadway musical Next to Normal.
Being a Part of Next to Normal:
Next to Normal is an American rock musical that opened on Broadway in April 2009 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010. Next to Normal and its songs were written and composed by Bryan Yorkey and Tom Kit, and is similar to a recent musical, Dear Evan Hansen. Next to Normal was centered on the effect of mental health and mood disorders towards individuals and their environment. The story revolves on the Goodman family and how they learn to navigate, help, and cope as Diana Goodman, the mother, deals with her mental health disorder. Diana struggles with bipolar II disorder (BPD 2) and, as a result, leads to harmful situations for both herself and her family. Next to Normal manages to capture the struggles that arise within a family that has one of its members suffering from a mental disorder. Brian Yorkey and Tom Kit were able to create a character that served two purposes: become the main character in their story and be the figure for their advocacy for raising awareness about mental health.
As I took part in this eye-opening story, two thoughts came to mind as I continued to learn more about musical theatre.
The first thing that came to mind was the immense amount of effort and talent that the actors had to put in as they each played their respective characters. It was during the rehearsals where my fellow cast-mates and I realized the beauty of this production. All of us were able got a glance into the struggles that an individual and their family members face as they deal with their mental disorders. We had to watch multiple bootlegs, clips of various actors, and even research and learn about bipolar II disorder. The person who played Diana shared about her experience in internalizing her character and how drained she was after rehearsals. All six of us had to learn to interact with her, and it was in this process that we were all humbled and gained a new perspective towards the story. Acknowledging that what we portrayed was only a portion of what people with BPD truly deal with, we all grew together in our understanding of this mental health disorder and had various healthy and educational discussions about the musical.
The second thought that got my attention, was how promoting and performing this musical helped inform, strengthen, and build communities. Before our opening night, we had a press conference where multiple media and social media platforms came and had several inquiries. The theatre company, New Art Collective (NAC), in partnership with another company for mental health, used this opportunity to share the lessons we learned as we rehearsed and internalized our characters. After the show, we received numerous positive reviews both from online platforms and our friends. All of my friends and acquaintances who watched the show shared their new understanding and perspective while also engaging in multiple discussions about the current mental health system in Indonesia and how it is in dire need of improvement.
Noticing the effect of my performance, I reflected on my current situation as an undergraduate music therapy student. When I got the news from my audition, I had a recurring thought in my head that made me question my future career. However, as I went to rehearsals, attended the press conference, performed, and after numerous discussions, I found myself overflowing with passion and drive to keep going as a music therapist. After experiencing the show both as an audience member and being a part of the cast, I saw the duality presented in the story of Next to Normal. I recognized the need for advocacy of mental health and mental health disorders together with the mental health services in most of the countries in South-East Asia.
I saw the ways in which music therapy and musical theatre are like two sides of the same coin. Each using music as their medium – where musical theatre aims to be a form of entertainment and is consumer focused, music therapy uses music and music-based activities for clinical goals.
Being a music therapy student provided me the ways in which music can be used as an intervention to help improve one’s quality of life. In addition, I saw the potential of using songs from Dear Evan Hansen and Next to Normal for lyric analysis for teenagers and young adults to aid in discussions for music therapy sessions. As I looked for people’s reactions towards these two musicals, I came across various reviews claiming how these musicals have widened their perspective, helped them find a community, and get a sense of belonging and acceptance. As a music therapy student, I was thrilled to see these positive effects and responses, and I was eager to see the possibilities in which I could utilize songs to help future clients feel safe and understood.
Through being a part of a musical like Next to Normal, I was able to increase my understanding of how music can provide individuals with a sense of community and feel accepted. As a music therapy student, I am constantly encouraged when I see the effects of music and how implementing songs that were mainly used for performance can achieve clinical goals and objectives.
Nowadays, I watch various musical productions through two lenses: a music therapist and an audience member. I no longer struggle with conflicting thoughts about my career, and I am working towards finishing my degree and planning to get a Master’s degree. I still have the desire to be a part of musical theatre productions and continuously listen to albums and songs that could possibly help in forming treatment plans. As I learn more music therapy methods, techniques, and practices from my professors, I can confidently say that I am where I am meant to be!