For Life

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PREMIERE: Feb. 19, 9:00p ET

The video premiere will go live here
TALKBACK
9:45p ET

A Talkback session will follow the premiere of this opera. 
Go behind the scenes, ask questions, give feedback, and learn about the process of bringing the new operas to life in unique and
challenging circumstances with the Creative Team and Artists.

In addition to members of the cast of creative team, a special panel will join this talkback session to discuss the subject mater of the opera:

 

Fletcher Taylor, M.D.

Psychiatrist, writer, open dialogue therapist with his spouse, and mountain climber.

 

Alita Taylor, MA, LMFT

Open Dialogue therapist, licensed marriage and family therapist, first American therapist to be trained in Open Dialogue in Finland

 

Amy Biancolli

Author, reporter for Mad in America, arts journalist, violinist, blogger at figuringshitout.net

 

Angela Peacock, M.A.

M.A. in Social work,  in  Iraqi War vet, medication and health literacy advocate, is traveling the country in her van advocating about the dangers of prescribed psych drugs and educating students and

veterans about alternatives to medication for PTSD. She hosts a video podcast for the film Medicating Normal, interviewing both medical and forensic experts and individuals with lived experience. 

ABOUT the OPERA

CHARACTERS:
Liam – young adult male – baritone

Leyna – his mother – soprano
Dr. Mannsplain – psychiatrist
Eliza Nocebo – Drug sales rep – coloratura soprano

Nurse Grace – Soprano
Michael, Rachael, Katy, Angel - Patients and Forest Figures

SYNOPSIS

 

Scene I 
Liam, plagued by nightmares and insomnia, wakes from a troubling dream in which he is wandering, lost, in the woods as the trees watch him. He reflects on how he had been rebuilding his troubled life when he was given help that made things “a thousand times worse.” He drifts into fitful, dream-filled sleep.

 

Scene II
In his dream, Liam wanders, lost, on a path in a dark forest. Suddenly he comes across a large white building, a psychiatric clinic. A nurse greets him and tells him he has "reached his destiny." Inside the clinic, other patients are being attended by a psychiatrist, Dr. Mannsplain. After briefly questioning the patients, he prescribes each of them with a magic potion. After questioning Liam, Dr. Mannsplain concludes that Liam’s nervous system is “very nervous indeed” and that his brain is not normal but rather  “diseased.” The nurse hands Liam a prescription. Liam asks whether there are side effects, and Dr. Mannsplain introduces Eliza Flower, a drug company representative, who reads a list of horrifying side effects. Liam interrupts, asking, “Why would anyone take these?” Eliza replies, “Would you rather be lost in the woods for life?” Dr. Mannsplain evades answering Liam’s question, giving flowery descriptions of diagnosis as a metaphor and a way to give a scientific name to the pain of being human; it is best if the patient does not know what is wrong. Eliza offers the medical term for not knowing – “anosognosia.” The nurse encourages Liam to trust the doctor. After reflecting on his doubts about whether pills are the solution to his searching for the right path, Liam takes the pill bottle and returns to the woods.

 

Scene III 
Liam has returned to the woods. Believing Dr. Mannsplain’s proclamation that his broken mind is the cause of his being lost, he takes one of the pills. He sees a light and begins to follow it, but the light begins moving haphazardly. Liam becomes disoriented. Suddenly his mother, Leyna, appears and, shocked by his condition, asks him what he is doing in the woods.  Hardly hearing her, Liam becomes more and more desperate, pacing wildly, unable to stop his racing mind or body. Leyna urges him to return to the clinic. Reluctantly, he agrees and she leads him back. 

 

Scene IV
As Leyna and Liam enter the clinic,  Liam is now in worse condition than when he left.   Leyna points out to the nurse that the prescription has made Liam ill.  The nurse suggests that Leyna is obstructing Liam’s treatment and that his condition is caused by Leyna’s childhood abuse of Liam, telling Leyna that the medication will unmask his illness. Leyna feels she is trapped in a "portal of madness." The nurse assures Liam that the doctor will “make it make sense.” Dr. Mannsplain reluctantly agrees to listen to Leyna’s question, checking his watch and pointing out that he cannot tell her anything. He evades answering her questions and speaks of metaphors in diagnosis. Leyna calls him out on his evasiveness and tells him the medications are hurting Liam. Eliza declares that Leyna has no proof;  Dr. Mannsplain suggests that Leyna is hiding something and is at fault for not raising Liam well.  Leyna asks Mannspoain what would happen if he took the potions he prescribes: “If you took these potions, what would you see? How white would your white coat be? Would your madness be revealed?” Dr. Mannsplain replies coldly, “Can I help you ma’am?” Leyna reflects how her son has changed from the child and adult she knew. Nurse Grace tells her that she must accept her son’s permanent illness; her own son is gone now, and she hopes Leyna can be spared that fate.

 

Meanwhile, Liam has been pacing and ruminating in the background, unaware of the conversation going on around him. Suddenly he declares that he has changed his mind and wants to leave the clinic. But Dr. Mannsplain and Nurse Grace tell him that they will decide his fate; but if he will just take a pill, he can go. Dr. Mannsplain points out how prescribing is an art, not a science and that there are no tests or X-rays involved. Eliza pipes in that medical professionals are required by law to prescribe the potions. Liam adamantly refuses. Nurse Grace begins to reveal her ambivalence about the medication, but since her son refused the medication and took his own life, she is unsure of what to believe. Nevertheless, they keep Liam in the clinic, and Leyna, horrified, is forced to leave.

 

Scene V 
Leyna wanders in the woods. She is living a nightmare where no one listens or hears. Suddenly, four figures emerge from the woods. At first, they praise her for her strength; but they then proceed to berate her for questioning the doctor, saying she is “not smart” and that she must accept her son’s permanent illness: “Who are you to question this art?”  Leyna counters their accusations; they retreat into the woods. Leyna, furious, reflects that she is the one who has known Liam from before his birth, while the doctor observes him for a moment and diagnoses him for a lifetime. Now the four patients who had been in the clinic earlier appear. The doctor had promised relief from life struggles through the potions, but instead, they developed even worse long-term side effects. They only wanted to live again but were prescribed poison to numb their pain. Now they find their support and hope in each other and are moving towards healing and light. 

 

Scene VI
Nurse Grace, Dr. Mannsplain, Eliza, and Liam suddenly appear in the woods, joining Leyna. Liam feels he has passed through the portal of madness and that his old identity has been replaced with a label of insanity. Leyna, furious, turns on the doctor and nurse, asking them what right they have to strip her son of his birthright. Dr. Mannsplain tells her not to be ashamed of her son. “It’s in the genes, you know, although we have not found the precise gene yet,” he says, as Eliza nods in disappointment. Leyna chides them for turning human suffering into a profit-making business venture. The nurse, finally willing to speak out, agrees with Leyna. She reflects on how she has seen so many young lives ruined after being told to take medications they did not want, suffering damage to their bodies and souls. Dr. Mannsplain finally admits that he does not know what to do other than giving medications when patients come to him for help. “They come for answers; how can we fail them?” The nurse reminds him that he has something to give other than potions. He realizes now that “We’re not lost in the woods; we’re learning to journey.” Eliza, irate that Dr. Mannsplain and Nurse Grace have denied not only “science” but have also refused to accompany her into the “portal of madness,” rejecting her offers of wealth and fame, curses them all with “anosognosia” and disappears through the portal of madness. 

 

Finally, Liam finds his voice. “We can’t escape pain; we just need someone to share it.” Dr. Mannsplain regrets the damage he has caused and asks what he can do. “Don’t try to save me,” Liam says, but rather "just be with me.” The injured patients reappear, and Dr. Mannsplain and Nurse Grace join them in expressing how life includes “all voices, visions, sorrow, and care; they are spokes on the wheel towards the future we share.” They fade into the woods.

Leyna and Liam remain in the woods alone. Leyna tells Liam how she saw his face before he was born and asks how he will find his way out of the woods. Liam replies, “We can’t know the future” and tells Leyna that he will find her, that they will be with each other for life. As they sing the final words, the forest begins to fade as Liam awakens. 

 

Conclusion
Contemplating the dream he has just had, Liam rises, and with Leyna, he looks out the window and turns to the light of a new day.

 

COMPOSER & LIBRETTIST

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Dawn Sonntag

Dawn Sonntag's music intimately connects her listeners with the experiences and places that inspire and inform her work. Her opera Verlorene Heimat, for which she also composed the libretto, won honorable mention in the 2021 American Prize for composition in the opera/theater/film/dance division. She was the second-place winner of the 2021 Dark Waters composition competition Composer of the Year for both the Washington State Music Teachers Association (2021) and the Ohio Music Teachers Association (2010). Her works have been performed across the U.S. and in Europe by soloists and ensembles including the Cleveland Opera Theater, the Hartford Opera Theater, Opera from Scratch in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Burning River Baroque, the Del Sol Quartet, the Delgani Quartet, the Almeda Trio, the Fairbanks Arts Festival Orchestra, Kantorei of Spokane, the Cleveland Chamber Choir, the Portland State Chamber Choir, and more.  In 2019, Sonntag was awarded a Swedish government intercultural fellowship as composer-in-residence at the Visby International Centre for Composers. She has performed extensively as a collaborative pianist, vocalist, and choral conductor and was the winner of the Inge Pitler Prize for lied performance in both piano and voice in Heidelberg, Germany. Her music has been published by Carl Fischer, Note Nova, and North Star Music and recorded by soprano Michelle Murray - Fiertek on Albany Records and mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen on Parma Recordings. She holds degrees from the University of Minnesota (D.M.A.); the Ohio State University (M.M.); the Hochschule für Kirchenmusik, Heidelberg (K.A.); Antioch University - Tübingen, Germany (M.A.); and the University of Texas, El Paso (BM). She also studied composition in Paris under the auspices of the European-American Musical Alliance. She has taught at Hiram College and Gonzaga University and is currently a lecturer in composition at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA. She resides with her spouse in Olympia, Washington, and is an advocate for truth, transparency, and informed consent in health care. 

www.dawnsonntag.com

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Kermit Cole

Kermit Cole, MFT’s, first career was in film and theater, writing many scripts - mostly comedy - but after his award-winning film about people living with AIDS and HIV, Living Proof, ran in theaters and on television around the world, Kermit’s desire to go further with people in crisis led to undergraduate and master’s degrees in psychology from Harvard. He worked for ten years in residential psychiatric programs and learned that the best outcomes for trauma and psychosis involve working with whole families and social networks rather than individuals. He now works as a marriage and family therapist, with a focus on couples and families with traumatized and/or psychotic members.

Kermit was founding editor of the Mad in America website and currently directs its webinars, support group, and educational efforts. He founded the Open Paradigm film project to produce high-quality videos of people and projects questioning the validity and value of our current system of diagnosis and treatment. He is board chairman of Open Excellence, which promotes effective treatments for psychosis and other extreme states that are independent of the medical model.  He is currently at work on his second opera with Dawn Sonntag, about the life of Harry Stack Sulllivan and his work with psychotic gay men in the early 20th century that cemented his renown as a father of American psychiatry, and added the term “significant other” to our culture. Kermit will present a paper, “Humor Being: The Tickle of Meaning at the Root of Human Being,” at the 2022 conference of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.