‘You’re Safe Here’ tackles mental illness
SAN DIEGO — Filipino American theater group MaArte Theatre Collective in its world premiere of “You’re Safe Here” will show audiences the struggles and triumphs in dealing with mental illnesses.
Devised by Allain Francisco, the play is a “docudrama” that is based on interviews from actual patients in San Diego about their recoveries.
“‘You’re Safe Here’ offers the unique opportunity for audience members to flex their powers of empathy by immersing themselves in the visceral experience of what it is to live with mental illness,” he says.
Francisco is an actor who is in his fourth year of medical studies at University of California-San Diego (UCSD)’s School of Medicine. He plans on pursuing a career in psychiatry.
The psychiatric conditions tackled in the play include depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia, gender dysphoria, and eating disorders.
Francisco states that while UCSD “has a reputation in the biomedical sciences, they actually also have a very strong MFA Theater Program as well.” It’s the same university where he took his pre-med undergraduate degree in biology with minors in psychology and, you guessed it, theater.
He combined his two passions to create this show to “confront social stigmas regarding mental illness and recovery among San Diego’s immigrant, POC and LGBTQ+ communities.”
This is not his first collaboration with MaArte Theatre Collective. He recently acted in the group’s staging of “Colored.” His other recent credits include “Ojo” (La Jolla Playhouse), “The Oldest Boy” (San Diego Rep), “Lost in the Pines” (Magnetic North Theatre Co.), “Les Miserables” (413 Project) and “War Games” (Nomads Theatre Company).
As part of his studies, Francisco had to do a research project before graduation. “I have always had a passion for mental illness and I was thinking of creative ways to do my research project. I have a background in traditional basic science research and wanted to do something that was a little bit more artistic.
“With faculty support, and having been inspired by my training in the Viewpoints performing method, Pina Bausch’s choreography and Anna Deavere-Smith’s docu-theater work, I thought that this type of theatrical production would lend itself well to help lessen the stigma on mental illness and to bolster empathy for its clinicians who suffer greatly from burnout.”
Francisco developed the show’s material for eight months. “But it’s been on mind for more than a year,” he says.
The patients’ testimonies were gathered from July to August this year with guidance from his professors. “There were six patients who participated in the interviews, as we wanted the story to be a bit more focused, although I’ve been conducting clinical interviews in the mental health setting since January.”
Three of patients are Filipino American. The sex and gender breakdown of the interviewees includes male and female sexes, and cis, trans and non-binary genders.
The production will be staged at Gaya Gaya Bar and Kitchen. Opened this summer by Chef Danilo “DJ” Tangalin, the restaurant serves dishes in kamayan style, encouraging patrons to share their meals and conversation.
“We lost our originally planned performance space at the last minute and Chef DJ stepped in graciously, allowing us to use his dining room for the production.”
“We wanted to be mindful of their space and their patrons, so we scheduled the show to start at 9pm since it is only one hour long.”
Cast includes Allain Fransisco, Annalia Galvan, Erica Mejos, Gerardo Munoz, Ryan Nebreja, Emily Neifert, and Hannah Reinert.
MaArte Theatre Collective artistic director Yari Cervas will helm the production. Edward Delos Reyes is sound designer.
“You’re Safe Here” runs Nov. 21-23 at Gaya Gaya Bar and Kitchen, 7580 Miramar Rd., San Diego. Visit Maartetheatrecollective.com.