White Plains Troupe Explores Mental Illness in its Performances
By Lindsay Emery
The Demitasse Players is an acting troupe based in White Plains that focuses on plays that concentrate on mental illness.
During the pandemic, the Players have gone virtual and upload plays on their website that can also be found on the White Plains Community Media cable channel.
“I write all original plays and works that deal with mental illness and our vision is to use the stage as a tool, as a classroom, to teach people about mental illness, to try and remove taboos,” said the troupe’s founder Richard Cirulli.
Cirulli has written and performed four full-length plays during the past five years that deal with mental illness.
The troupe is coming up on its fifth anniversary following the launch in 2016 when Cirulli wrote his first play “Via Delarosa.” Actress and child psychologist Benna Strober arrived at the Iron Tomato on a Saturday morning after responding to Cirulli’s call for actors.
Strober is one of the founding members of the Players and found the combination of raising awareness for mental health and acting appealing when she auditioned for Cirulli.
“I liked the fact that it was available acting and there was a cause behind (it),” Strober said. “I think it’s really great to spread awareness about mental illness so that we can kind of destigmatize it, and it’s a way that we can sort of get stories out there in a different venue so that we can reach more people.”
Fellow Players’ actress and clinical social worker Alexa Servodidio, expressed a similar sentiment about the importance of raising awareness about mental health. Even though the plays might not end perfectly the dialogue that comes out of the shows is just as important about what life is like with mental illness.
“Unfortunately, whether it’s mental health or also with life, it doesn’t wrap up in a nice box with a bow,” Servodidio said. “There’s always other issues going on, but that doesn’t mean people can’t find happiness and peace and have a good life.”
Cirulli explained that the Players want to bring awareness to the people around them and how they can help.
At the end of the show, Cirulli says that he tries to explain to people that they are in control of the ending of the real-life consequences.
“We try to emphasize that although you don’t like the ending, we collectively as an audience have an opportunity to change it in real life if we just follow the character and show their slow decline into mental illness,” Cirulli said.
Both Strober and Servodidio praised Cirulli and his directorial style for listening to the actors and his nonjudgmental attitude that encourages viewers to start a dialogue.
“From the characters, from the audience, from the actors, we don’t put judgment on anything that we’re doing and I think that’s what’s really important, is that we don’t try to pick a side, prove a point or anything like that,” Servodidio said.
Digital Director Eric Scholz began building the Players’ website but also helped Cirulli incorporate multimedia into his performances such as background videos. Scholz appreciates how Cirulli is invested in providing a full experience including digital and multimedia in addition to live player performances.
“But one of his big ideas is that the performance doesn’t start on stage but with somebody looking at the click of the mouse on the website where they can learn and understand and see some of the performances and see what we do and continue their journey into what we do, whether it be an online performance or a live performance,” Scholz said.
As the pandemic made live performances more difficult, Cirulli decided to start doing Studio E performances. “My Existential Virus” is a short documentary that consisted of poems about COVID-19 read by someone who has the virus and a severe mental disorder with original music overlays and graphic backgrounds.
The Players are currently taping an existential dramedy, “Vanity Hair,” starring Servodidio and Susan Bond that will be released next month on YouTube, The Dematisse Players’ website and on the White Plains Community Media cable station.
To watch The Dematisse Players’ performances, you can find information on their website at http://demitasseplayers.com
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