In a play carefully fusing text, movement, and metaphor, Katie Woods ’14, made her first professional playwriting debut In July 2015 with her play, “Out of Sync,” produced by Doorway Arts Ensemble as part of the Capital Fringe Festival.
An idea originally conceived in the spring of 2012 and later refined as part of a playwriting class with Denison Theatre professor Mark Evans Bryan, Katie wrote the play influenced by her own experience with mental illness.
Beautifully funny and heartbreaking, “Out of Sync” follows Nathan and Petra, a young couple just beginning to date. But when the memories of his ex-girlfriend Amy start to bleed into the present, Nathan struggles to move forward. Amy’s crippling depression – and the devastation it eventually caused – begins to splinter the fragile new bonds forming between he and Petra. The play casts light onto the struggle of a relationship with someone who is mentally ill and powerfully captures the experience of clinical depression.
I knew the first time I read it that “Out of Sync” was something I wanted to be a part of, and I went on to co-direct the production with Katie, a good friend of mine since my first year at Denison. Katie, a theatre major, told me she wanted to produce the play through the Denison theatre department and DITA, the Denison Independent Theatre Association, and had already put in a bid for a time slot in the fall of 2012. Once it was secure, she began organizing a staged reading at The Bandersnatch to generate interest in the auditions, assisted by the student chapter of Active Minds.
The reading was a massive success. Katie recalled, “People kept coming up to me and telling me how much the script had resonated with their experiences. Friends I had known for years were suddenly opening up to me about their own struggles with depression, anxiety and other mental disorders.”
After that, we had so many talented people come to the auditions I remember being heartsick we only had three roles to cast, but eventually we narrowed the cast down to Joey Firoben ’13 as Nathan, Annie Tracey ’15 as Amy, and Aleksa Kaups ’16 as Petra, with Brett Reider ’14 and Imani Abernathy ’16 joining us as our stage crew.
That first production was an amazing experience I will never forget, and was extremely well received by the Denison community. I didn’t know what would become of “Out of Sync” afterward, however. Through its audience response, I knew the play was something special, and for about a year I would occasionally ask Katie if she wanted to submit it here or there.
Then, in the late summer of 2014, my coworker and friend Mary Cat Gill told me she was seeking script submissions for the Doorway Arts Ensemble. Doorway’s mission is to produce work by local artists, and there were two production slots open in the coming season. I encouraged Katie, a Maryland native, to submit “Out of Sync” and see what happened. Her play was chosen out of more than 50 play submissions.
“I had been tackling some of the questions around society and mental illness,” said Mary Cat. “Why do we embrace it as a media sensation, share in the tragedy of celebrity suicide or violent incident, then sweep it under rug when the mourning period has passed? Why do we keep skirting an issue that affects not just celebrities, but 1 in 5 Americans? “Out of Sync” offered the challenge of a script that tackles the issues of depression and anxiety in a new way. It highlights the quiet struggles of one average person and how they create a ripple effect that shapes us all.”
Katie began working with Mary Cat to revise and polish the script, and I was brought on board to assist with the production’s marketing and fundraising strategy. The company launched an Indie-Gogo campaign to raise $2,245 to help with production costs, and it met its goal.
Auditions were held, notable D.C. actors were cast, and the production went up to receive favorable reviews from DC Theatre Scene, DC Metro Theatre Arts, and to be featured on Art Beat with Lauren Landau.
In addition to this, the personal comments and feedback from the D.C. audiences were profound. Just as “Out of Sync” had stirred a powerful response at Denison, people who had never met her were impacted by Katie’s words and shared their struggles and experiences surrounding mental health. They came together to talk after seeing the show and left encouraging comments and notes about it, saying what it had meant to them online. The word of mouth spread and the last performance was the most packed house of the run.
Now with this newest production over, “Out of Sync” will likely continue to be tinkered with by Katie as she decides what to do next. “I’ve gotten pretty passionate about the importance of telling thoughtful and diverse stories about mental illness,” she said. “I hope that “Out of Sync” and stories like it can create a safe space for these people to open up about their experiences and begin to create communities where their struggles aren't as stigmatized.”
With her passion for mental health awareness, and her immense talent, I can only hope to see where “Out of Sync” and the rest of her projects will go next.
Author Amanda DiMartini majored in communication at Denison and currently is associated with Washington Performing Arts.