By Lillian Linscott
The play “Wilderness,” by Seth Bockley and Anne Hamburger, was performed by the Grand Rapids Community College Players. The story, based on real events, surrounds six young adults who were sent to a camp that specializes in helping those with mental health issues. The director, cast and crew hoped to spread awareness of the harsh realities these characters faced and how they affect many in our community.
Anne Hamburger spent months gathering interviews from parents, who like her, had sent their children to a camp in the desert of Utah. The purpose of this camp is to help young teens that are going through anxiety, depression, exploring their identity, drug abuse or behavioral issues. The play explores these things as well as, abandonment, the struggles transgender people face, self-harm, coping mechanisms, anger and more.
The director of this play, Jason Flannery, 29, of Grand Rapids, is the adjunct professor of theater at GRCC. Flannery started directing in college in 2013, and he began his position at GRCC in the Fall of 2018. He said that the opening night of “Wilderness” was the most confident he had felt going into a play. He expressed his admiration for the cast, crew and the play.
“My experience with ‘Wilderness’ has been a truly touched production.” Flannery said. “In this day and age, kinda the dawning of conscience about self-care, it’s an extremely important piece of theater.”
“Wilderness” was Sky Rodriguez’s first GRCC Players production. Rodriguez was surprised at how he could connect so easily with such a production and expressed similar thoughts with his castmates of what they hoped people would take away from the show.
“I would like to see more awareness to a lot of things that the kids in the show have gone through,” Rodriguez said. “And for their story to become more well known and the struggles that happen in the world. I think it would be a real cool thing that people would start seeing that.”
The character Elizabeth, played by Yesenia Cotto, is portrayed both as her younger self when she attends the camp and when she is older and becomes a counselor. This show was Cotto’s second GRCC production, she played Deirdre in “Good Kids.” On the night of dress rehearsal, Cotto expressed her excitement, connection with the cast and how she felt about the play itself.
“Oh man, I’m extravagant right now, I am so excited for the show,” Cotto said. “It’s such a compelling story, we are all sort of like the ‘Breakfast Club,’ we all are so different in our characters, but in a way it clicks us. And you just see the connection on stage right away, with the dancing and everything, everything just merges together. It’s a really great experience on stage and for people who watch it.”
Chosen Rhodes, who plays Cole, had only performed in church plays before “Wilderness.” Rhodes talked of how much he enjoyed working with the cast and crew, learning new things and growing as an actor.
“I’ve learned a lot, just like a lot more independence as an actor,” Rhodes said. “Jason (Flannery) is a really good director, and he really just lets us take the reigns of our character. He just gives us a lot of liberties with them. I think it helps us all feel a bit more accomplished ‘cause… we’ve all put in the same amount of effort when it comes to creating such a piece of art.”
Heather Vander Zee, the stage manager, has been working in theater in Grand Rapids for nine years, and expressed her liking for organizing and “wrangling” everyone.
“The production is a lot about self discovery, self acceptance,” Vander Zee said. ”It is at a high quality, it’s a really great show, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
The mom in “Wilderness” is played by Julie Kehr, who has done 12-15 productions, yet this is her first production in 10 years and first at GRCC. She is taking classes at GRCC and decided to audition for the part on a whim.
“Weirdly enough, I normally don’t like shows based on real life, because sometimes they don’t translate well,” Kehr said. “I just really love ‘Wilderness,’ I think it has a really good mix of serious moments and really dark moments and also comedy. I like the different elements coming together to make the show a little more dynamic, the dancing and the singing and the different ways people communicate through Skype, through phone calls and through monologuing. I think it’s really cool, and I’m very happy to have been a part of it.”
For the Spectrum Theater calendar, follow this link. There are more opportunities to audition for a production in the future.
Many mental health resources are available at GRCC, there are advisors and events available to all students. For a list of events, follow this link, the events include Mindfulness Meditation Mondays, Depression: Overcoming Sadness and more.