Heath theater workshop helps youth overcome anxiety, depression

  • Participants in the Hilltown Youth Theatre's Recovery Theatre winter intensive at Heath Elementary School, led by founder and artistic director, Jonathan Diamond, take part in a warm-up exercise Saturday, January 14, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Morgan McIntosh, of Shelburne Falls, Sam Picone-Louro, of Wendell, and Alyssa Wright, make collages based on written pieces they composed the previous night during the Hilltown Youth Theatre's Recovery Theatre winter intensive, Saturday, January 14, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Participants in the Hilltown Youth Theatre's Recovery Theatre winter intensive at Heath Elementary School, led by founder and artistic director, Jonathan Diamond, take part in a warm-up exercise Saturday, January 14, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Participants in the Hilltown Youth Theatre's Recovery Theatre winter intensive at Heath Elementary School, led by founder and artistic director, Jonathan Diamond, take part in a warm-up exercise Saturday, January 14, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Sequoia LeBreux, of Shelburne Falls, gives Robbie Buoniconti, a UMass Amherst volunteer in the Hilltown Youth Theatre's Recovery Theatre winter intensive, a henna tattoo Saturday, January 14, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Alyssa Wright, the co-founder of the Hilltown Youth Theatre's Recovery Theatre winter intensive at Heath Elementary School, led by founder and artistic director, Jonathan Diamond, shares thoughts about the intensive, Saturday, January 14, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Kaia Jackson, of Northampton, a participant in the Hilltown Youth Theatre's Recovery Theatre winter intensive, shares thoughts about the intensive which took place at Heath Elementary School Saturday, January 14, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Jonathan Diamond, the founder and artistic director of Hilltown Youth Theatre shares thoughts about the the group's activities during the Recovery Theater winter intensive at Heath Elementary School Saturday, January 14, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Participants in the Hilltown Youth Theatre’s Recovery Theatre winter intensive at Heath Elementary School, led by founder and artistic director Jonathan Diamond, take part in a warm-up exercise on Saturday. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

Recorder Staff
Published: 1/14/2017 6:53:23 PM

HEATH — With help from fellow theater workshop participants, 15-year-old Alex Schmidt climbed atop a large wooden spool and was carefully hoisted into the air. As she stood up and stretched her arm to the ceiling, a grin spread across her face.

From Friday through Sunday, participants in the Recovery Theatre’s “Winter Recovery Intensive” sprinted, crawled and pranced around Heath Elementary School, performing various group exercises to music. The Recovery Theatre is an initiative of Hilltown Youth Theatre.

While it may sound like simple fun and games, the activities all have a therapeutic focus, according to Recovery Theatre Co-Founder Jonathan Diamond. Diamond, who is also co-founder of Hilltown Youth Theatre, specializes in addiction and the clinical needs of adolescence.

“The intensives are for kids overcoming anxiety, depression (or) addiction,” Diamond said. While there have been intensives in the summer for the past three years, this is the first year that Diamond has been able to offer additional intensives in winter and spring.

According to Diamond and Alyssa Wright, also co-founder of the Recovery Theatre, the program is supported largely through donations from individuals and businesses, along with grants from the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and the Charles H. Hall Foundation. A wide age range of individuals help out with the program in volunteer capacities, and participants come from across western Massachusetts. One winter intensive participant came from Connecticut.

Throughout the weekend, the group performed writing exercises to put feelings on paper, made collages, did breathing exercises and wrote song lyrics about the challenges they hoped to overcome.

For Alex, who participates in the intensives to overcome anxiety, having the support she receives through the Recovery Theatre has been invaluable.

“(My first summer intensive) is probably the most I’ve interacted with people in a long time,” said Alex, of South Deerfield. “There’s so much support here. It’s great because you get to build yourself as a person.”

Being involved with the Recovery Theatre has helped Schmidt gain confidence, while also gaining “lifelong friends.”

“The (workshops) helped me realize that any problem, you’re very able to get over,” she said. “This good energy made me realize I’m definitely going to come out on the other side.”

Sam, a 13-year-old Wendell resident who declined to use a last name, said the program helped to overcome depression two years ago, and is now helping to deal with anxiety and self-harm. Though starting the intensive feeling nervous, after spending time with the group, Sam was able to grow comfortable.

“I feel like they stayed with me … We’re taking care of each other,” Sam said.

“This is pretty much the only place that I don’t feel self-conscious in my body,” said 13-year-old Morgan McIntosh of Shelburne Falls.

Many of the winter intensive’s participants commented on how the Recovery Theatre offered them a unique safe space, where mental health troubles aren’t stigmatized.

“There’s a sense of community that really transcends the client-counselor relationship,” said 26-year-old Kaia Jackson of Northampton, who also works as a counselor at Pathways in Greenfield. “We’re creating kind of a culture where we all practice being a healer for one another … I feel we have the potential to be healers in any context we’re in.”


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