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Theatre cancels controversial teen suicide play Emma Jackson
EMC entertainment – Just Kiddin Theatre in Metcalfe has cancelled its final show of the season after a commu-
nity group involved with the play pulled out over the controversial ending. YouthNet Ottawa, a mental health resource through CHEO, was working with ex-
ecutive director Andrie Nel to make sure the theatre’s teenled play Private Thoughts was not sending unhealthy messages about suicide. The play, which was set
to open Friday, May 25, had three storylines including one following a teen named Amy as she contemplates suicide. The theme centred on communication and the im-
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portance of speaking your feelings, particularly negative ones. Aware of the potential risks, Nel had reached out to the Ottawa Suicide Prevention Coalition for feedback on messaging, storylines and the play’s ending. YouthNet was going to provide resources and a talkback session for the audience after each show. However YouthNet pulled out during the final week of rehearsals because it did not agree with the play’s ending that allows the character to kill herself. “I think ultimately YouthNet was uncomfortable because leaving it as a suicide did not align with their organization’s message that suicide is not an option,” Nel said. She noted that while the ending was tragic, messages of hope were also layered into the play’s conclusion. YouthNet could not be reached for comment before this newspaper’s deadline. Without YouthNet’s support, Nel said cancelling the show was a matter of liability. “The optics of YouthNet pulling out and us disregarding YouthNet’s position would just put us so liable that we couldn’t do that. That’s not what JKT’s all about,” she said. The play was written by Nel and her daughter Sydney Miller, who is in Grade 9. In all three storylines – two of them quite lighthearted - it explores why we choose not
to communicate and the consequences we face when we don’t. Writing the controversial part of the script was a challenge, and Nel said she and her daughter “tried on” about four different endings – some that allowed Amy to die, some that brought her back in a spiritual form and another that used an “It’s a Wonderful Life” format to let her start again. The writers wanted to make sure the message hit home for everyone, and for this reason they purposely left Amy’s background story vague. “We wanted it to be vague enough that her character speaks very honestly to the audience and we wanted people to relate to her, not sort of put her aside because they can say, ‘that’s not my life,’” she said. Nel said the actors, who range in age from 14 to 16, were extremely disappointed to hear of the cancellation, particularly so close to curtain call. However Nel said they will hold a private function to perform the play for parents and close friends. “I have never been so proud of the kids and what they’ve pulled off. We need to show it,” she said. She added that parents in particular need to see first hand what the risks were and understand why the show was ultimately pulled. Tickets will be completely refunded. For more information visit www.justkiddintheatre.com.
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Just Kiddin Theatre founder and executive director Andrie Nel said she was extremely disappointed by the decision to pull Private Thoughts, an original script that dealt with the consequences of not communicating - although she said “it was the right thing to do.” It was a controversial storyline that ends in a teen suicide that ultimately caused Nel to cancel the play, after mental health resource YouthNet decided not to support the play a week before curtain call. Manotick EMC - Thursday, May 24, 2012