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ASU Music Theatre and Opera collaborates on cast album highlighting mental health

Eight music theatre and opera majors helped record 'The Anxiety Project' by David Brush and Rachel Dean

“ASU students have written music for the musical, 'The Anxiety Project.'" Illustration published on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

ASU Music Theatre and Opera and eight music theatre and opera majors collaborated with music theater writers David Brush and Rachel Dean to release the complete recorded album for “The Anxiety Project,” a musical that chronicles struggles with loss, brokenness, love, anxiety and depression. 

The musical gave five current students and three alumni, a platform to discuss mental illness by using the stories of real people, which enabled students to relate to these issues on a personal level. 

The recording was officially released on YouTube this summer and will be released on other streaming platforms soon.

The musical is centered around a character named Avery, a senior studying psychology. For her thesis, she must study the mechanics of mental illness and begins looking at patient cases. 

As she goes through her cases, one specific case resonates with her. From there, the musical goes on to tell the stories of the people whose cases she studies. 

“'The Anxiety Project' is about giving voices to people who often feel like they have none," said David Brush, librettist and lyricist for the project. "Silence is the greatest enemy to those who suffer and the very literally mental health epidemic that envelops our country."

Brian DeMaris, artistic director of music theatre and opera at ASU, helped facilitate the collaboration between the students and writers. He said ASU students first started collaborating on “The Anxiety Project” in 2018 at the Phoenix Theatre Company and began recording the following year. 

He said the musical began with a series of blog posts asking community members to share their stories of struggles with mental health anonymously. 

From there, after developing songs and a plot, Brush and Dean submitted the musical, and it was voted upon by ASU students to be performed as part of the New Works Festival at the Phoenix Theatre Company, DeMaris said.

“After involving audience and student feedback, the composer went and made more rewrites to the script," DeMaris said. "We were considering doing a premiere production, but we decided it would better serve the piece to get a recording of it. We recorded it all on a weekend in January of 2020 and were lucky to get it done before any signs of the pandemic." 

Nellie Shuford is an ASU musical theatre and opera alumna who played three characters in the project.

“The recording process was really interesting because we were in the studio with our band and recording live with them," Shuford said. "It wasn't necessarily like singers rolling their tracks down separately over the band but all of us recording together.”

Hahnna Christianson, a fifth-year student studying musical theatre, played four characters in the project. 

“I've never been so honored and felt so lucky to be a part of something," Christianson said. "This is such a different experience from a typical main stage or regular show because it's untouched. This project helped me discover where I needed to go with my mental health and it was just a lovely experience and something that I will hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.”

Theatre and the arts have struggled since the start of the pandemic because of the lack of audiences and revenue coming into the industry. However, Brush said the project showed new ways to create and perform art even during the pandemic.

“The now-darkened theaters in the shadow of COVID-19 are a solid reminder of how fragile we all are but also at how resilient means change and paradigm shift," Brush said. "Unbeknownst to us, the students were helping to pave the new way forward. It is prescient that the cast recording should be released in the time of the pandemic. ASU Music Theatre and Opera is a goldmine of talent, passion and forward thinkers."

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Lauren KobleyCommunity Reporter

Lauren Kobley is a reporter for the Community and Culture desk at The State Press. She has previously interned with the Fountain Hills Times. 

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