'This is my Brave' shares stories of mental illness on stage

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Tracy Griffin of Auburn is the executive producer of the show “This is My Brave,” a performance in which 10 local people will share their stories of mental illness this Sunday at The Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. “It will be a pretty powerful show,” Griffin said. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — Hallie Twomey knows what it’s like to have her world crushed by suicide. 

In 2010, Twomey’s 20-year-old son, C.J., shot himself in front of her after an argument. Guilt and grief consumed her.   

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Now she’s hoping to save another family from going through something similar. 

Twomey and friend Tracy Griffin, both of Auburn, are lead producers for the show “This is My Brave,” bringing 10 local people on stage at The Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center this Sunday to share their stories of mental illness.

Their goal: raise awareness of mental health issues and reduce stigma.

“It’s part of my journey,” said Twomey, who will tell her story on stage. “It’s a purpose that gives me something positive to come from such tragedy.”

“This is My Brave” shows are licensed through a Virginia nonprofit of the same name. Since 2014, volunteers have produced shows around the country, each showcasing local people who wanted to share their experience of how mental illness — either their own or a loved one’s — affected their lives.  

Last year, the nonprofit’s founder contacted Twomey. She’d heard about Scattering CJ, Twomey’s effort to scatter her son’s ashes around the world, and she asked if Twomey would be willing to be involved in a show in Maine.

“I couldn’t get ‘This is My Brave’ out of my mind,” Twomey said.

She didn’t think she could spearhead a show alone, but she knew who could help. Griffin was a friend, and her father, cousin and a high school classmate had killed themselves.

“I’m very much aware of what the after effects are,” she said. 

The friends formed their own nonprofit, Untold Strength, to raise the $2,000 needed to license the show from the This is My Brave organization.

They are lead producers for the show. Untold Strength board members Donna Lafean, Kristi Norcross and Mike Polizzi are also producers.

In August, they began auditioning cast members, including Twomey. She did not want her story to be automatically included just because she was co-producing the show.

“I felt like it needs to be authentic,” she said.

Twomey was chosen, along with nine others. They include a woman dealing with the trauma of multiple sexual assaults, a young man who struggles with his adoption from another country and people who have attempted suicide or lost family to suicide.

Each cast member will take the stage for about five minutes. Some will tell their stories while others will share music or poetry they’ve written about their experiences.

“It’s empowering to see these people stand in front of you,” Twomey said. “I’m in awe of them.” 

“This is My Brave” shows typically take place in large cities. This will be the first in Maine.

“It’s needed here,” Twomey said. “We are a community losing people — people struggle in silence because it’s just not something that we openly talk about. I don’t think the show is going to single-handedly break that down, but if people leave thinking, ‘Wow, these people have chosen to stand up there,’ maybe it will lead to them thinking, ‘I can do that.'”

The show will run from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Franco Center, with a reception afterward. It is recommended for teens and older. 

Tickets are $20 each or $10 each for students in groups of 10 or more. Tickets can be bought by calling the Franco Center or by visiting BrownPaperTickets.com. Tickets will also be sold at the door on the day of the show.

Proceeds will help pay for the event, with any leftover funds going to Untold Strength.

Several organizations will be at the show to provide people with information about mental health help.

“I feel like the people who are coming are committed to being part of something bigger, and I think that’s part of the cast members, as well,” Twomey said. “They can say that they’ve made a difference, even if it’s changed one person’s mindset or opened the eyes of one person.” 

ltice@sunjournal.com

Executive Producer Tracy Griffin of Auburn, left, performers Crystal Gilks of Lewiston, Corinne Pratt of Lewiston, Amy Greene of Augusta, Mitch Thomas of Durham and Emily Fuller of Auburn intend to bring awareness to mental illness with “This is My Brave,” Sunday at The Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Tracy Griffin of Auburn is the executive producer of the show “This is My Brave,” a performance in which 10 local people will share their stories of mental illness this Sunday at The Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. “It will be a pretty powerful show,” Griffin said. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

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