Jennifer Marshall started as a blogger, chronicling her experiences with bipolar disorder anonymously, both in fear of judgment and later discrimination from potential employers. For 18 months, she wrote under a pen name, interacting with an online community of fellow writers struggling with mental illness.
But when she got her first paid writing gig and WhatToExpect.com published an article with her byline, Marshall moved forward using her true name attached to her pieces. She calls the following outpouring of support and gratitude “overwhelming.”
From there, she knew she wanted to give others the same opportunity that she had received — a stage on which to share one’s story about dealing with mental illness. She and her co-founder Anne Marie Ames launched This Is My Brave on Kickstarter in the fall of 2013.
The theater show will make its State College debut in April.
This Is My Brave is made up of live performances given by local community members. Mediums range from music to poetry to comedy. The first This Is My Brave show debuted in Arlington, Virginia, to a sold-out crowd of 400 people, backed by more than $10,000 in contributions form Kickstarter. From there, Marshall and Ames turned the brand into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and took the show on the road.
With the help of volunteers, shows went on to take place in Harrisburg, Boston, Iowa City, New York City and Los Angeles. In This Is My Brave’s second year, they went on to even more destinations around the country, with an even bigger following.
Two “storytellers” who participated in the 2018 Philadelphia show, Shawn Henfling and Skylar Rae Dawn, decided This Is My Brave would find a perfect fit in State College, and came together to head up the April 26 show at The State Theatre.
Ahead of each show, This Is My Brave hosts auditions to compile a lineup of local performers and speakers to share their stories. Auditions for the State College show will take place from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at Bellefonte Springboard, 120 S. Water St., Bellefonte.
There aren’t really any special requirements to audition. You just need an essay, original song, poem or comedy set shorter than five minutes that reflects your experience with a mental health issue and living a successful life despite of that issue.
Marshall encourages those who are on the fence about auditioning to give it a try.
“It’s my belief that we’re never going to end the stigma surrounding mental illness and addiction until we put our names and faces on our stories,” she said. “That being said, the decision to go public with your story is different for everyone. No one can tell you when it’s time to share your story. That is a decision only you can make. When the time is right, you’ll know.”
Even if you don’t perform in the show, Marshall encourages community members to attend the April event.
“You’ll laugh and you’ll cry. It’s our intention that you’ll leave with a transformed perception of the invisibleness of mental illness which affects all of us in one way or another,” she said.
After the show, she says that many of the storytellers go on to continue sharing their stories within their community. Some go on to even start their own nonprofits or small businesses, with a focus on mental health.
Thinking of auditioning for the State College This Is My Brave show? Marshall offers five tips as you prepare: practice, practice, practice; time your piece to make sure it’s under five minutes; arrive at least 20 minutes early; don’t be afraid to be vulnerable; and relax and have fun.
For more information, visit thisismybrave.org/events.