There is a societal stigma that villainizes or degrades anyone diagnosed or associated with any mental illness. While many different forms of media have attempted to destroy this stigma through psycho-centric narratives, I wanted to argue that musical theatre has the greatest potential as a live entertainment source to deconstruct and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. For my research, I theorized that musical theatre can most effectively change societal stigma about mental illness by communicating a clear understanding of the disease through music, and achieving popularity in the public eye longer than other live forms of theatre. I chose to focus on four of those musicals: Lady in the Dark by Moss Hart, Kurt Weill, and Ira Gershwin which talks about depression and anxiety in the 1940s; Spring Awakening, adapted from Frank Wedekind's original play by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, which discusses depression and suicidal tendencies, specifically in students; Next to Normal by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt which revolves around bipolar disorder; and Dear Evan Hansen by Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul which talks about the prevalence of anxiety disorders in society.
With this thesis I wanted to further the progression of destigmatizating mental illnesses through the medium of musical theatre. Through an analysis of these well-known musicals that focus on mental illnesses and the psychological research that follows, I proposed a short song cycle that continues this evolution of mental illness musicals. Through this process, I theorized that musical theatre will decrease the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and will promote treatment and care when dealing with mental illnesses.
Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Orlando (Main) Campus
Walton, Benjamin, "Anything but Crazy: How American Musical Theatre Can Change Societal Stigmas Against Mental Illnesses" (2018). Honors in the Major Theses. 321.