A Light in Dark Places Stages Plays for Hope to Benefit Suicide Awareness

This article first appeared as part of Jenelle Riley’s Acting Up newsletter – to subscribe for early content and weekly updates on all things acting, visit the Acting Up signup page.

At its best, art is transporting but also useful. The non-profit organization A Light in Dark Places gathers talented artists to put on an entertaining show that, in producer-artistic director Kelly O’Malley’s words, seeks to “break down stigma surrounding the topic of suicide by using the performing arts to encourage healthy discussion, create community and offer hope to those affected.”

Starting this weekend, Los Angeles audiences can check out ALIDP’s 8th Annual Plays for Hope. The series presents five short plays — a mix of comedy and drama — to provide a variety of experiences for those who have been touched by suicide or for those who want to learn more.

And if you are a creative looking to get involved, good news! Actors, writers and directors in the area (and in Dallas, where they mount a Spring production at the Bath House Cultural Center) are encouraged to visit the website, where you can submit a play, learn about auditions or donate to the organization.

The Plays for Hope will run Sept. 8-17 at the Stella Adler Academy & Theater, which donates its space so the organization can prepare and perform the show during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Tickets can be purchased at Event Brite.

I spoke with O’Malley about ALIDP and how it can help benefit the community through art.

How did you come to create A Light in Dark Places?
I started A Light in Dark Places as a way to combat the isolation and stigma surrounding suicide through the communal experience of theater. My dad died by suicide when I was in college, and I found myself exposed to shame, isolation and even rejection. Either of him or myself. But as I began healing, I began to learn and to see the how much suicide can impact a community. I learned every suicide affects approximately 100 people, and someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds. We need to talk about it. No matter how uncomfortable or taboo it might feel. And so A Light in Dark Places was the way I envisioned doing that.

How do you go about assembling your shows? What kind of scripts and artists are you looking for?
I would say each show starts with finding our plays. We have a call for submissions each year and a committee that makes selections. It’s a tricky process — a heavy subject with several safety guidelines and an emphasis on hope and community. We need plays that find the balance of exploring the complexity of the subject while maintaining hope and connection. And all without tying the piece up into a neat bow. It’s a tall order, but we find our five plays every year.

Can you talk more about the process of casting and finding directors?
Once the plays are picked, we move on to finding directors, actors and a variety of volunteers to fill the various roles that make the show function. I’ve had the opportunity to work with dozens of generous, hardworking artists over the years who commit themselves wholeheartedly to the project. Something that’s always been important to me is making sure we always keep space for new people to become involved. One of the ways I do this is by changing up the roster of directors and actors each year. So, if anyone wants to get involved, they can do so by joining our mailing list or following our socials for announcements on how to do so.

You also profile different artists on your website — can you talk about the process behind that?
We do, and that process is so fun! It’s a series I started during the pandemic as a way to continue the outreach from a safe distance. And while we’re no longer actively cultivating the series, we have begun looking into a reformat as a gallery type event.

What would you want an audience to know coming to see the show?
You might cry, you’ll definitely laugh. But you’ll feel good after, and you won’t be experiencing it alone. We value safe messaging and have no desire to romanticize or exploit this subject. We’re cultivating a night of hope and community, and we do this by following each 75-minute performance by a Q&A with a representative from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and/or a mental health professional, as well as a reception.

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