Acting Out! Fest Brings Mental Health and Addiction Awareness into the Open

Wed 9/13-Sat 9/16

Depression is often hidden behind a smile and ignored until it’s too late. In 2015, the National Institute of Mental Health estimated 16.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. That represents 6.7 percent of all U.S. adults; however, so many more people deal with anxiety and other mental health issues.

Only recently the suicides of Robin Williams, Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington shed light on the subject. Locally, world-renowned artist Derek Hess talked about his struggles with alcoholism and bipolar disorder in the documentary Forced Perspective.

The reaction from the film was overwhelmingly positive, which led Hess along with his business partner Martin Geramita to create the mental health and addiction awareness-based Acting Out! Fest.

After a successful debut last fall, the event returns featuring a free series of comedy, talk, film, art and music Wed 9/13-Sat 9/16 in the Gordon Square Arts District. This year’s affair includes nationally known and local experts, comedians, artists, musicians and advocates putting the spotlight on mental health and addiction issues.

CoolCleveland talked to Geramita about Acting Out! Fest.

Last year marked the debut of Acting Out! Fest. What did you learn about this type of festival?

Many people actually requested help. And we weren’t really totally set up last year to give people the resources they needed. So the goal this year was to provide those resources. We had people come up to us and say, “I haven’t left my house in three months. I’d love to get help, but I don’t know what to do.” We had people come up to us with drinks in their hand and say “Hey, I have a problem with drinking, but I don’t know where to start to get help.” And then they’re like, “I don’t have insurance.” It was like, “OK.” So last year we really had no idea how to help them. This year the goal was to give those people those available resources.

With that in mind, what’s new this year?

We’re going to have program guides and a lot of our sponsors will be set up at some of the events. The way I look at it is, if people don’t feel like actually talking to somebody at that moment, they’ll be able to leave with some kind of literature. Whether you’re dealing with drugs or suicide, we’ll have a list of those kind of organizations.

Something else noticeably different this year is an increased number of participants.

Yes, we’re bringing in people from around the country, like Noah Levine who is going to talk about recovery and spirituality. He’s also going to do a guided meditation. We’re bringing in Chamique Holdsclaw; she was the Michael Jordan of the WNBA. Her life fell apart of because of her bipolar diagnosis. There’s a documentary we’ll show on her at the Capitol Theatre. We’re bringing in Joseph Penola from the You Rock Foundation and Monique Powell from the band Save Ferris. They’ll be on a panel called “After Treatment” with David Smeltz, a musician here in Cleveland, and counselor Jason Joyce. It’ll be a panel discussion at the Happy Dog because a lot of people don’t really know how to treat people when they get out of treatment or they stop drinking. Especially in the rock ’n’ roll world. So we wanted some people to give guidance for that.

There’s a lot of variety. What other programs are you looking forward to?

We’re also doing another program “Suffering in Silence,” which is all about mental health in the African-American community. That has [Cleveland rap artist]Archie Green and Dr. Julius Bailey. Lawrence Daniel Caswell will moderate that panel. We have a heroin storytelling on opening night where we’re going to have four people that are in recovery talking about why they started doing heroin and what kind of happened to their lives. After they tell their stories, they’re going to sit down on a panel with Dr. Joan Papp, who created Project Dawn and Judge Joan Synenberg, who created recovery court downtown.

Looking back to last year’s event, it must have been heartbreaking.

You know, your heart breaks just from the stories. Last year after Derek’s movie at the Capitol Theatre, some little girl got up in front of hundreds of people and said she told her dad she may have depression. She said he slapped her and said, “We don’t talk about that in our home.” Now luckily, she said that in a room of mental health professionals so I’m sure she had help.

Sadly, it seems as though it took the suicides of Robin Williams, Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington to finally bring the public discussion about depression out of the dark and into the light.

That’s basically what we want to do. We understand we’re not going to save everybody, and we understand we’re not going to change the world overnight. It’s just about being able to get people to feel a little bit more comfortable and normal, that they may be able to talk about those issues more openly and to not be scared to receive help for those issues. There are so many people that are just scared to get help. Nobody wants to think they have a problem.

Looking ahead, what are the challenges still facing Acting Out! Fest?

It’s definitely an uphill struggle. We still need some donations and some support because we realize we have a lot of help from the recovery community, but then a lot of businesses and other people we reached out for help from, they’re still like “That’s just still too heavy of a subject for us.” I’m like, “Is cancer not too heavy a subject for you? And mental health is?” I think we’re still a couple of years away from it being as awesome as it can be.

Acting Out Cleveland

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