This weekend, NOMADS is presenting “Grieving for Fish,” a new play by Elyse Pitock, BC ’15. Bwog chatted with her about the show, which will be playing at the Glicker-Milstein Theatre tonight and tomorrow at 8 pm.
The process for this production began 8 months ago. Pitock reached out to Columbia and Barnard first-year students to see if they would talk about their experience. It would have been easy to stay quiet, but Pitock found around 25 students who were open and willing to talk about their first year at the university—how it went, how they felt, what their major blocks were. It was from these conversations that she was able to write “Grieving for Fish,” which centers around issues of mental health, wellness, and the stigmatization of both.
Ironically, the major theme that Pitock heard from most students was of loneliness; most first-year students said they felt isolated and as if they were not living up to social expectations of making close friends and having a blast. More than that, though, most of the lone students did not tell their friends about this—they “didn’t want to be burdensome,” Pitock explained. Realizing this, one can’t help but wonder what would have happened if these students had spoken up. Once one person admitted to this, others around her or him may have felt less isolated, realizing that there are others who feel the same.
This is what Elyse aims to achieve with “Grieving for Fish.” On this campus, “there is a lot of conversation about mental health and wellness, but most of that is conversation about conversation,” she said. While it is important that we have this communal drive to keep wellness at the forefront, often we don’t actually achieve anything. So instead of trying to institute policy changes or new programming, “Grieving for Fish” uses the simplest, and often most effective, method of addressing an issue: storytelling.
Pitock took the interviews she conducted and turned them into this play, sometimes compounding people as composite characters, to discuss the first-year experience. It’s not an entirely CU/BC-specific story, though, the themes are relatively common across college campuses. While Columbia does present a certain type of stress, it’s not like you wouldn’t find stress at other schools.
“If someone you look up to and admire—or just like to be around—says they are having problems, you realize it’s not only you and crazy, out-there people who are struggling,” Pitock said. By hearing that someone else has the same problems as you, you can feel less pressured and isolated. Telling stories about wellness problems helps to de-stigmatize mental health struggles, as people see that others all around them face the same challenges, fears, and agitators—it is a normal thing. But it’s unusual for people to be so open about personal issues, and it’s much more unusual to see it performed onstage. That’s what makes “Grieving for Fish” so significant and so intriguing.
Image via Shutterstock