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Tampa Repertory Theatre launches mental health initiative

Bill DeYoung

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Chrissie Whitehead's credits include a stint as a Radio City Rockette, films including "Save the Last Dance" and "West Side Story" (2021), and the 2006 Broadway revival of "A Chorus Line." Photo provided.

Chrissie Whitehead has an extensive Broadway, film and television resume. She’s a singer, dancer, actress and educator. And not so long ago, when she turned 38, she was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder.

That discovery, and its effect on her overall mental health and wellbeing, as well as her family and her career, is the central focus of Whitehead’s one-woman show In My Own Little Corner, coming to Hillsborough Community College’s HCC Studio Theatre in Tampa Friday at 7 p.m.

The official tagline: “This riveting and heartfelt journey through family secret, societal stigma and personal rediscovery will touch anyone with a brain.”

Tampa Repertory Theatre producing artistic director and CEO Emelia Sargent explained that Whitehead’s show is being presented here to aid in the “destigmatization of mental health disorders.”

Subtitled My Work in Progress with Bipolar Disorder, the show – singing, dancing, laughs and yes, some serious stuff – is part of Tampa Rep’s initiative “Raise the Curtain on Mental Health Awareness.”

The Community Foundation Tampa Bay awarded $15,000 and the Love IV Lawrence Foundation awarded $5,000 for the project launch.

Whitehead performs alongside musical director Nick Wilders on piano; tickets are available here.

She’ll cap Friday night’s performance with an audience talkback, moderated by mental health professional Kayla Jones.

From 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Whitehead will conduct a Care Box (“with tools for your mental health”) workshop for students ages 13+ at the Patel Conservatory, in the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. The three-hour session, limited to 30 participants, uses musical theater to help students build healthy habits to improve mental well-being.

Participation is free, but registration (here) is required.

The initiative also includes the next Tampa Rep performance. Next to Normal, the rock musical by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, will run May 31-June 16 at the USF Theatre Center in Tampa.

The Pulitzer and Tony-winning play centers on suburban housewife Diana Goodman, who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder, and the effects that managing her illness has on her husband and children.

DC Theater Arts called it “an unblinking peepshow of how a dysfunctional family struggles to function … rock opera at its finest.”

Said Sargent: “I’ve wanted to produce Next to Normal at Tampa Rep for nearly a decade, and when the opportunity came to partner with all these amazing organizations and individuals who wanted to help normalize the conversation around mental health, as well as May being Mental Health Awareness month, I knew this was the time.

“A 2023 Tampa Bay Thrives survey found that nearly seven in 10 Tampa Bay residents experienced at least one “poor mental health” day during the past month. I’ve been there myself, and I know how important acknowledgement is to the healing process.”

Tickets for the production of Next to Normal are here.

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