Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 14, 2020

Senior’s play focuses on mental illness, love

By ANNE HOLLMULLER | April 14, 2016

Unnaturally Happy: The Language of the Bumblebees premiered at Arellano Theater last Friday night at 8 p.m. The drama, which focuses on the delicate intricacies of relationships and mental illness, was directed, produced and written by senior Tatiana Nya Ford. It featured performances by Ford, junior Saraniya Tharmarajah, senior Utkarsh Rajawat and senior Matt Moores.

The play follows two women named Zora and Iris who fall in and out of love with each other and attempt to deal with their mental health issues. Ford played Zora, a florist who delivers multiple soliloquies. Tharmarajah played Iris, a student. Rajawat played a therapist who sees both women, and Matt Moores played Iris’ friend Marco.

After the debut of Unnaturally Happy, Ford shared her thoughts with The News-Letter via email.

“I feel so relieved and very calm. I had to do a lot for this show, things I did not even realize were necessary, and that was stressful. However, to have people see my performance and react as powerfully as they did made me cry. I was so happy.”

When writing Unnaturally Happy, Ford was inspired by her own life experiences and a desire to help end the stigma that often surrounds mental health issues.

“As all other art I create,” she wrote, “I was inspired by the events of my life, the experiences I have had as a person with a mental illness. I wanted for people to see and be able to relate to those experiences, to feel them as a human being and not as something taboo.”

Unnaturally Happy was performed for a second time at Arellano Theater on April 10. Sophomore Simon Jackson-Forsberg conducted the lights and board operations for both productions.

The Homewood Arts Certificate provided the funds for the show. According to the Homewood Arts website, the Certificate enables a senior student to create a personal final project or thesis related to the arts.

“The Homewood Arts Certificate is awarded to graduating seniors who have made an ongoing and committed contribution to the co-curricular arts at Johns Hopkins University and who complete a significant original final project within the arts.”

Within the play program, Ford included a Director’s Note, intended to address the audience upon viewing the play. Ford hoped the audience would be able to experience the many layers of meaning hidden within the play.

“Thank you so much for coming out to see this remarkable play. It has been nothing short of a nourishing experience working on a personal piece with some of my closest friends. This whole process has brought me so much closer with the unparalleled beauties. The intimacies and complexities of the play intermingle, yet separate, the characters in countless ways. As you view the show, I encourage you to explore the subtext as deeply as you receive the stated. As the play unfolds, I hope you do as well.”

For the production, Ford chose actors with whom she had previously worked personally.

She had trusted in the talent and commitment they each demonstrated each time she had performed beside them. Ford was grateful to junior Saraniya Tharmarajah, senior Utkarsh Rajawat and senior Matt Moores for helping to bring the play to life.

“In the past, I have worked closely with all actors I chose to be in my play, and I know them all to be incredibly talented and hardworking. It took a lot from each of them: time, energy, blood sugar, the ability to work well under the extreme pressure placed upon them to properly produce a show that demonstrated the seriousness and relatability of the play’s themes. I knew they would portray each character just as I had wished.”

Ford also shared how this play came to be through the help of a Homewood Arts Certificate. The funds from this program helped enable Ford to bring this production to Arellano stage.

“I wanted to write this play for months, but I was not really pushed to do it,” Ford wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Not until I was reminded of the Homewood Arts Certificate offered to graduating seniors to recognize their talent and for representing their personal forms of art. In October I began writing the play, and I finished edits about a week before the play’s premiere, which says a lot about the remarkable actors’ talent and my horrible time management skills.”

Ford explained the great challenge she faced in completing the final edits for the play.

“The main challenge I had writing the play was an editorial one. I think that writing the material, using the themes and symbols, was not an issue at all,” she wrote. “It was really a personal issue of not being sure if people communicate in poems as I do.”

“Working on the play was a really great experience for me,” Moores wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “As a graduating senior it was awesome to be able to do a play that encompassed two of my main passions here at Hopkins: mental health awareness and LGBT relationships. Surprisingly, this is my first time acting in an explicitly-stated LGBT roles here at Hopkins, and it was just great being able to do so before I graduate! More plays like this need to be written and performed!”

More Hopkins theater events are on the horizon. There are upcoming Witness shows on April 21 and 22, and Throat Culture’s next show is on April 30.

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