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Performing Arts Field Trips to See Chris Gethard

In early November, Stevenson’s Performing Arts teacher Jackie Silvestri brought her improv class, Nick, Will, Aidan, James, and Violet, to The Chris Gethard Show on TruTV. The show markets itself as, “the weirdest and often saddest show on television.”

The show was live and full of shenanigans, including, but not limited to, a wise half-man/half-fish, occasional piñatas, and phone calls from eccentric strangers. The hit-or-miss quality of the calls, paired with Chris’s ongoing laments about having worse ratings than The Impractical Jokers, keeps the show in touch with its public access roots.

Attending the show supported the work the students had been doing in the first quarter and should inspire their practice in the quarters ahead. It was a great experience. As per the advice of the showrunner, Will brought a costume (see above: Top Hat Made of Cheese!) and was seated on stage! We dubbed his character Mayor Manchego, but didn’t have time to get to know his character’s motivations and backstory before he was made into a part of the living set.

The warm-up act also featured an improvised birthday invocation of sorts, which they made the audience do three times. This really was a special, memorable, and exhausting way to close out quarter 1.

The experience built on last year’s trip to see Gethard’s play Chris Gethard: Career Suicide at the Lynn Redgrave Theatre in Greenwich Village. In his one-man show, Gethard shared his lifelong struggles with depression and anxiety, using comedy as a vehicle to start a conversation about traditionally taboo topics. Jackie coordinated the trip and hosted a Q&A between Mr. Gethard and the students in attendance.

Students from Jackie’s Creative Expressions classes and weekly Music Club were encouraged to ask him questions. After a moment of initial hesitation, Chris assured the students that it was fine to wait until they were comfortable. His empathy and understanding of Stevenson students’ struggles put them at ease, encouraging questions and discussion about his process of creating and performing an original piece of comedy with true and tragic roots, his stage fright, and even his Morrissey tattoos. In an open and honest and open conversation, Chris answered students’ questions and discussed his ongoing and evolving relationship with anxiety and depression.

Upon seeing Career Suicide last November, Jackie knew it would be a valuable performance for members of the Stevenson community to see. She reflected: “Gethard is candid about his mental health, which is refreshing and relevant for audiences. Unlike Stevenson students, he wasn’t diagnosed with anxiety and depression until his 20s, so he had to navigate his high school and college years without the same networks of support. Seeing someone like Chris, who has achieved so much in spite of or because he had to work through anxiety, depression, and nasty prescription side effects, is a big deal, and it’s an even bigger deal for our students to have the chance to speak with him. His show changes the conversation, and hopefully, the perception about mental health and how it is treated.”

With regard to the subject matter of his show, Gethard said: “People have expressed to me that making comedy about depression is insensitive. I vehemently disagree. We need to start laughing about this stuff, so maybe we can finally be comfortable talking about it afterwards. I just try to make sure my jokes come from an honest place….”

Students Lauren and Aidan loved the show for this specific reason. “I never expected the show to be about such a dark topic, but then turn out so funny!” Aidan said. “It’s inspiring to see this subject matter talks about so openly,” Lauren said.