“I think so often, people see someone performing – like a comedian – and they assume they’re confident and sort of have it all figured out,” says performer Stephanie Thoreson. “But there’s actually a huge intersection between mental health [issues] and the arts community.”
Thoreson has explored that intersection in her own acclaimed solo sketch show Fishbowl, and now she’s part of the ensemble cast of My Own Worst Enemy, the upcoming improv show at ColdTowne Theater. Like Fishbowl, My Own Worst Enemy also explores the world of mental health, anxiety, and self-doubt in a comedic way.
My Own Worst Enemy was created by Amy Knop, who says she was inspired in part by Thoreson and fellow cast member Lane Ingram, a comedian and therapist who uses comedy to de-stigmatize mental health issues in his podcast and live show Yeah, But Are You Happy?
“I had been kind of inspired by Lane and Stephanie,” Knop says. “And in particular, I’ve just been really interested lately in the ways that we all hold… this universal sense of self doubt within us, but we don’t really show it to the outside world. Like inside we have these thoughts about ourselves like I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve this, that I feel is pretty much something every person can identify with, but we don’t bring it out into the open or talk about it. So I thought exploring this through comedy and putting it on a stage might be a really cathartic way for people to see that kind of universal experience played out [and] see that this is something we can all identify with.”
Ingram says that the improvised nature of the show will be a big benefit in tackling the subject matter. “You could see this show five or six and it’s going to be different every single time, and it’s going to be different based on what the audience is suggesting,” he says. “You’re going to get to see improvisers kind of bring to life different scenes and situations that I think are really going to be relatable.”
Dylan Garsee is serving as technical director for My Own Worst Enemy, a fact that Ingram points to as proof of the show’s comedic chops. “I think it is so telling of what a stacked, wonderful cast we have here that one of the funniest performers in Austin, Dylan Garsee, is doing our tech!” Ingram says. “So even though they won’t technically be on stage, their presence and their comedic sensibilities will be reflected in the show.”
Even from behind the lighting board, Garsee will be bringing some improv skills to the show – they’re planning for the lighting cues to be a little more evocative and cinematic than one would often see in an improv show. “With improv, a lot of shows don’t really have a lot of music or sound… or lights,” Garsee says. “But if we’re going to explore the entire breadth of the human mind… what is the environment around you? How do you feel? Do you feel claustrophobic when the lights are just on you?”
Knop says she’s hoping that audience members are reminded that they’re not alone in their self-doubt. “I’m just hoping that they [think] wow, this experience I had, these thoughts I had, [and] my inner bully is something that others have too. Even people that seem so confident or happy on the outside, that we all struggle with these feelings sometimes, but it also doesn’t really reflect the reality. You know, I don’t have to believe that my negative self-talk is real. I do have strengths. I don’t have to listen to my inner critic.”