Musical puts mental-health struggles on stage

Kaylee Larose Photography // Special to Western News

Thalia Ranjbar, BA’19, and Jake Schindler, BMus’18, Bsc’19, are presenting Where Do We Begin?, a musical about four friends coming to terms with the suicide of their friend and finding ways to speak out about their own struggles with mental illness.

For a pair of Western alumni, starting a conversation about mental health is something to sing about.

Thalia Ranjbar, BA’19 (Kinesiology), and Jake Schindler, BMus’18, BSc’19 (Computer Science), hope to shine a light on mental health with the staging of Where Do We Begin? The original musical focuses on four friends who find themselves in the very place their 16-year-old friend took his own life.

The show runs Aug. 29-31 at the Spriet Family Theatre, 130 King St.

The show is inspired by a book Ranjbar wrote in 2018 for a children’s mental-health services fundraiser in Newmarket, where her best friend was seeking a platform to share her journey battling mental illness.

In the show, four friends begin to share memories about their friend, finding ways to speak out about their own struggles with mental illness. Where Do We Begin? offers a raw and honest depiction of the real struggles people face every day, Ranjbar explained.

“Through song, dance, spoken word and theatre, it asks us to think about what it means to grieve, and ultimately, where do we find hope in the face of a tragedy,” said Ranjbar, adding the play deals with topics such as teen suicide, eating disorders, depression and domestic abuse. “The different mediums we use are just different ways that we can all use communicate with each other.”

While the word ‘musical’ may conjure images of the Sound of Music or classic show tunes, Ranjbar said the performance for a heavier topic is really about how you approach it.

“These topics are heavy – yes. But we approach it in a sensitive way, through modern expressive dance, which has always been good as a channel for expression and elevate the emotions, spoken word and music,” she said.

Ranjbar and Schindler, who wrote the music, spent many nights around the piano over the last few months working on how they wanted, and needed, to present a difficult topic in a way that doesn’t come off as condemnatory or judgmental.

“We were super cognizant when we were creating this that we didn’t want it to sound preachy, or as if we have the answers. We would never be so bold as to assume we have the solution for mental health,” Ranjbar said.

“We wanted to start a conversation. We hope for some people, if they see some of their own experiences in the show, that it will be that moment of ‘someone understands.’ That can be very inspiring when you realize you’re not alone. It’s easy to feel isolated when dealing with mental health.”