Interview With Tom Sweitzer About ‘Coming of Age’ Cabaret

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Entertainment and enlightenment are only two of the expectations for the upcoming performance of Coming of Age at the Creative Cauldron as a group of talented teens perform a cabaret with compelling stories about their personal journeys through tough terrain.

The cast of Coming of Age. Photo courtesy of A Place to Be.

Coming of Age will feature songs about the struggles that teens can go through as they confront anxiety, bullying, depression, identity issues, body image, suicidal ideation, and even awkward talks with parents about romantic intimacy. The cabaret also includes comic moments and humor. The cast of Coming of Age recently performed A Will to Survive, a rock opera about teen suicide prevention at the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center.

Coming of Age was created by A Place to Be, a Northern Virginia based non-profit that helps people with disabilities, medical issues, and mental health struggles to navigate and overcome challenges. Under the leadership of Tom Sweitzer, A Place to Be uses clinically-based practices of music therapy and expressive arts therapy in their work. Sweitzer’s work was noted in a documentary screened at the Kennedy Center called Music Got Me Here, which features music therapy as an evidence-based tool.

Coming of Age will have mature content and The National Alliance for Mental Illness will have representatives at the Creative Cauldron performance on August 11. A Place to Be recommends the production for families and high school freshman and beyond.

To learn more about A Place to Be as a “safe and creative haven” and its production of Coming of Age, I interviewed Tom Sweitzer, the Executive Director and Co-Founder of A Place to Be.

David: How do music therapy, performance, and A Place to Be specifically address mental health issues of teens?

Tom: At A Place to Be, we help people address their physical, medical, and mental health challenges through clinically-based music therapy and expressive arts therapy. The songs from Coming of Age were created by teens participating in our programs, as well as music that has been performed in other A Place to Be productions that have been centered on mental health awareness issues.

Taking this music to the stage, performance-based therapy allows teens to create and share their story in a safe, supportive, and imaginative environment and then express themselves through performance. It also provides an opportunity for teens to bring awareness and acceptance to others.

Why is it important to address the struggles that teens go through in performances such as Coming of Age

Tom Sweitzer, Executive Director and Co-Founder of A Place to Be. Photo courtesy of A Place to Be.

Using the arts of music and performance sometimes makes it easier for teens to talk about struggles. The show stars 15 teens who will talk openly between numbers about their own real struggles.

This vulnerability, coupled with music, performance, and humor breaks down barriers and, as stated above, helps provide awareness and acceptance on important teen struggles. At the performance these issues can be brought to the forefront, giving audience members an opportunity to talk about sometimes uncomfortable subjects.

What can the audience expect at the performances of Coming of Age?

The audience can expect a very intimate, honest, and engaging look into the struggles, dreams, and confusion by real teens. The music is extracted from several musicals A Place to Be has produced from the last five years.

What would you like the audience to come away with after taking in Coming of Age?

I would like the audience to come away with first, feeling how brave the cast was to reveal themselves through their stories and music.

I also want the show to impact the audience in a way that they might leave with a better understanding and perspective of what teens actually go through on a day to day basis in 2018. Our goal is to expand appreciation, understanding, and empathy for those that live with or deal with teens on a daily basis.

If you could invite people to the performances of Coming of Age, what would you say to them?

I would say how A Place To Be is so honored that these teens have trusted their stories in the hands of the therapists and creators at A Place to Be. Daily we use music therapy and expressive arts to help people face, navigate, and overcome life’s challenges and that mental health is at the forefront of our work.

By performing this piece on the public stage, we are taking our personal struggles and creating a dialogue for a larger audience to understand the truth behind the mental health of teens today. And while the topic is serious, the performance is fun, inspiring, and engaging. It’s another great example that through music, an intimacy is created between the performer and audience that connects them to universal humanity.

Coming of Age plays August 11, 2018, at Creative Cauldron– 410 S. Maple Avenue, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call (703) 436-9948, or purchase them online.

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