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Turlock art collaboration tackles mental health with ‘One Voice Matters’
ART Co-LAB One Voice Matters
Kayla Roslan and Melina Prull in the A.R.T. CO-LAB’s production of “One Voice Matters” at the Carnegie Arts Center in Turlock (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

Christina Rhoads’ production of “One Voice Matters” is unlike anything the veteran writer/director/choreographer has attempted in her career.

Typically, the Turlock resident gravitates toward standard musicals with lively dance numbers and music that appeals to all.

But Rhoads was ready to tell a different story.

“One Voice Matters” is a deeply personal two-act play that deals head-on with the subjects of mental health and suicide.

ART Co-Lab One Voice Matters 2
Lauren Case and Jennifer LaMere in the ART Co-Lab's production of "One Voice Matters" (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

“It just occurred to me after our October show (“When Art Speaks, We Move”), I thought, ‘I think I’m going to do a show about mental health and suicide and the recovery process,’” said Rhoads. “I wanted to tell a different story and to continue to shape the A.R.T. CO-LAB and this was the next step, take something more serious and see what I could do with it.”

Rhoads struggled with depression and self-harming and has been in and out of therapy since she was a small child. In her 30s, she began having dissociative memories about sexual abuse in her past, and her struggles morphed into thoughts of suicide.

Eventually, Rhoads worked through the Celebrate Recovery program and has come to terms with her past.

And writing this play, and creating some of the art seen in the musical montages, has played a major role.

In the program, Rhoads dedicates the production to “Hailey.”

ART Co-Lab One voice matters 3
Melina Prull with art work during ART Co-Lab's production of "One Voice Matters" (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

“Hailey was an original cast member,” said Rhoads. “We actually never got to meet her in person. She had attempted to commit suicide for a fourth time. She survived. And she still wanted to do the show as part of her healing, but it was just too much having just been hospitalized…

“And that just really drilled home why we were doing this show.

“We need to talk about it and bring it into the open. It is a scary topic and it is a triggering topic, but it is worth talking about.”

The play opens with two of the characters detailing their struggles with mental health concerns. Other characters are introduced who have their own struggles and coping mechanisms. The second act features recovery, relapse and eventual breakthrough and growth.

Jennifer LeMere, the A.R.T. CO-LAB secretary and a member of the cast, also has dealt with depression. She was bullied in high school and, at age 17, attempted suicide.

“I took pills, and I threw up,” the 39-year-old LaMere. “And there was a reason I failed at suicide. I believe that reason is so I can go out and do what I’m doing today — sharing my talents with other people.”

In addition to LaMere, other cast members are Kayla Roslan, Skylei Hayward, Jonathan Serrano, Joe Tapley, Melina Prull, Lauren Case, Robyn Swain, Eva Lee, Emily Zizzo, Hanna Whitfield, and Caleb Dowdell.

The show opened Friday night at the Carnegie Arts Center, 250 N. Broadway.

Tonight’s final performance will be at the CAC at 6 p.m. Tickets are still available: $15 for CAC members and $20 for non-members. Because of the intense themes and for some coarse language, the show is not recommended for children under 13 years of age.

“The stigma surrounding mental illness is just so brutal,” said Rhoads. “We’re often perceived as the odd person or the weird person or the scary person … the person nobody wants to deal with. But really, we need to rally around those people and love on them.”