A few weeks ago, we wrote about THE SEVERANCE THEORY: WELCOME TO RESPITE, the latest show from CoAct Productions. In the show, audience members will step into the shoes of a mentally disturbed individual in the first of this four-part series that explores a rare psychological phenomenon.
After we reported on it, we were definitely intrigued, and wanted to learn more about what the show entailed. We reached out to the minds behind it, and they were kind enough to answer our questions.
HorrorBuzz: THE SEVERANCE THEORY heavily leans into the realm of mental illness. Which one does the show revolve around, and what exactly does that entail?
Lyndsie Scoggin (Producer/Creative Director): THE SEVERANCE THEORY is based off of a rare and fascinating psychological phenomenon: Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, DID is often misunderstood. Because most of us have never been faced with the disorder, it’s really easy to assume it’s scary or strange. Through our research, though, we found that -in its complexity and purpose- there’s something really meaningful and beautiful about it.
What I find particularly interesting about DID is the interaction and relationships between the personalities within The System (alters). Each of them play an important role and work together to get to a place of healing. It’s really very astonishing.
This story is told through the lens of Alex, who is the main character and host of the personality system. Participants will get to experience some of the symptomatic elements of the disorder, but more importantly, this is a story of self-healing and growth.
Our goal is to present an experience and story that is fascinating, educational, promotes empathy, and also highlights how beautiful and complex the human mind really is!
HorrorBuzz: How did the story idea for THE SEVERANCE THEORY come up for your team? With two writers, how was the process working together to craft it?
Payden Ackerman (Producer, Co-Writer, Performer): We started with a couple different threads. I wanted to produce a series of 30-minute immersive experiences based on participants living into a painful childhood memory and healing it. Kelley Pierre and I were already collaborating on that. Soon after, Lyndsie and Danielle Levesque approached with the idea to produce a large-scale immersive production exploring Dissociative Identity Disorder. As we began work on these separate projects, we quickly realized they complimented each other and thought: why not weave them together?
Kelly Pierre (Co-writer, Performer): I’ve always had a fascination with exploring mental disorder through theatre, whether it be to bridge the gap of understanding or to educate audiences on the warning signs (hopefully both!) and it just so happened that both these stellar creative parties were coming together with two perfectly suited ideas. Thank god I ended up in the middle of it!
HorrorBuzz: Mental illness is something that is not often portrayed in such a way, especially in immersive theater. What were some of your influences when it comes to depicting it?
Lyndsie Scoggin: Early this year, I became obsessed with learning the real stories of those living with DID. It began when I came across a YouTube channel where a young woman spoke about her experience of living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Then I found more and more! They were all so brave and open in discussing their experience- I felt so much for them and everything they had been through. It was equally astonishing and educational. The more research I did, the more compelled I felt to share this phenomenon with others. There are so many nuances- more than we can ever fit into even four shows.
HorrorBuzz: Just based on the description, this show is very different from in theme from your first show, THE SIDESHOW. How did you guys decide that this was a story you wanted to tell.
Danielle Levesque (Producer, Art Director): There were discussions to remount THE SIDESHOW after its short run, but after much consideration we decided to push ourselves and expand our repertoire as creators. We found with THE SIDESHOW, that our environment, a 1930s circus, was a real draw for audiences. It’s a glamorous time period and the circus naturally piques most peoples’ curiosity, mostly due to the fact that it is a strange and unusual lifestyle that most people have never experienced for themselves.
With THE SEVERANCE THEORY, we are taking a deep dive into material that is by nature a bit darker and often considered taboo. We are focusing on exploring this rare psychological phenomenon that will force the audience into a scenario in which they will have to question what is real and what is in your mind. This rare disease piques our curiosity in the same way that the circus did. It’s incredibly complex and wildly difficult to wrap your head around if you don’t experience it firsthand. We hope we can tell a very human story within the strange and emotional backdrop of living with DID.
HorrorBuzz: I am fascinated by the fact that this is the first of a four-part series. Was it a hard decision for you to determine that you wanted to break it up?
Danielle Levesque: Actually, no, it came to us very naturally. We initially had a large single event exploring this disorder, but while we were working on a smaller standalone show that Payden had brought to us, it immediately clicked that this was the perfect way to explore the disorder leading up to the final big event. This is a disorder that progresses over a period of time, and we jumped at the idea of the audience exploring the progression over real time as well, with each chapter transporting Alex back to a memory from their past that triggered an advance in symptoms.
HorrorBuzz: THE SIDESHOW invited quite a few guests into the story, whereas this only will serve one at a time. Why did you decide to make this show more intimate?
Danielle Levesque: Part of the draw of exploring a mental health issue was making the audience experience it directly. To feel the confusion and isolation, as well as the support and love firsthand. Our audience member plays the role of Alex and will be the center of the story. We toyed with having a few more audience members per show, but it is important to us that each audience member gets to experience what it is to be Alex, exploring this phenomenon as it comes to fruition. We hope that it piques the audience’s curiosity to continue to unpack Alex’s memories going forward, while also opens them to a new perspective of what it could possibly be like to live with such a misunderstood disorder.
HorrorBuzz: Mental illness is a touchy subject for most, and I imagine staging a show, let alone an immersive one, around it is a bit of a gamble. How do you guys intend to maneuver that balancing act between storytelling and being respectful?
Lyndsie Scoggin: Mental illness is certainly a sensitive topic and we are doing our best to be responsible around it. We have designed this show in such a way that our audience members are being cared for, and we are not pushing any stereotypes. What I love about the script is that THE SEVERANCE THEORY takes an empathetic approach.
We want people to walk away feeling like they have some understanding of what those with a mental illness have experienced- as well as be able to relate to some of the circumstances. The story of Alex is so much more about healing than dysfunction. We have discovered that there is something beautiful about how the human mind protects, nurtures, and ultimately heals itself. That’s the story we want to share with you.
THE SEVERANCE THEORY: WELCOME TO RESPITE opens on August 8, 2019. For tickets, and more information, visit: https://coactproductions.ticketleap.com/theseverancetheoryrespite/dates