UpStage Stigma

By Annie Rosemurgy

As a survivor herself Emily Erwin-Frank knows firsthand the “double whammy effect” of mental illness—the struggle not only of the experience itself but also the stigma that comes along with it.

Erwin-Frank, a 2019 BRAVA Woman to Watch, conceived UpStage Stigma as a way to take the conversation about mental illness out of the shadows. This live show features local artist-advocates who tell their own stories through an array of performance media including spoken word, music, poetry and monologue. The open, honest dialogue seeks to break down the barriers of stigma, and kindle the flame of empathy and compassion. UpStage Stigma is, in a nutshell, performance art as social justice.

“I’m taking this risk so that I can help to annihilate ignorance. I’m taking this risk because UpStage Stigma isn’t a show in which a social worker showcases people’s stories. It’s a show in which people with all kinds of stories come together to witness our shared humanity,” Erwin-Frank says.

For guitarist/vocalist Bridgette Weber participating in the project has been cathartic. She says, “UpStage Stigma is a gateway for people who live with mental and emotional struggles to free themselves and be seen fully in their beauty and honesty.” Speaker Mary-Jo Olsen says the performance will be a celebration of the core belief that people with mental illness are worthy just as they are, “deserving the utmost admiration, respect and appreciation.”

This year’s UpStage Stigma performance is May 17, at 8 p.m. at High Noon Saloon. Tickets are available at High Noon Saloon and The Sylvee and proceeds benefit local mental health programs. The show is for all ages, but parental accompaniment is requested for kids 14 and under.

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