Taking audience members through a journey of magical dreams, a new musical strives to destigmatize seeking mental health support.
“The Exultant Stag” is set to open this weekend at the Lawrence Arts Center. The “surprising and off-beat musical comedy” celebrates the courage it takes to seek professional guidance when experiencing mental health struggles, according to the event page on the arts center’s website.
Jeff Stolz, who wrote and directed the play, said he wanted to combine his two worlds as a local musician and a social worker to communicate about mental wellness.
Using nightmares and dream sequences, Stolz set a “lighthearted” tone. There’s a main character who gets transformed into a stag, a talking dog, and magical musical elements, he says. References to Roman mythology are worked in.
“If you’re using dream sequences, it’s really easy to throw almost anything in there — use the fact that it’s a dream as an excuse to add some liveliness to it,” Stolz said. “I tried to keep it lighthearted in that way and not be preachy with the messaging. I think it’s gonna be intriguing for people to watch.”
The story is compounded with live music by Stolz’s indie-rock band, The Frightened Stag, including Stolz and fellow members Ryan Johnson, Paul Schmidt and Sam Goodell. Heidi Gluck, Hannah Novaria, and Raven Naramore will join the band as backup vocalists. Additionally, 11 cast members will be acting and dancing, Stolz said.
Doubling as a vinyl release show for The Frightened Stag, the play will include seven songs that make up its soundtrack. A new single from Stolz’s long-term collaboration with Wallace Cochran, Drakkar Sauna, will also be featured, and Cochran will return to perform in the play.
Stolz said he began creating the original play, which is the first he’s ever written, in 2020 during COVID-19 pandemic closures. After three years in the making, he said he’s excited to now see it come together onstage with the help of friends, volunteers and the arts center.
“I hope [audience members] just really have a good time watching it,” Stolz said. “I was hoping that maybe it could be something of a spectacle and performance that could bring people together in a way I was just missing during the pandemic.”
“The Exultant Stag” performances are at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 22, 23 and 24, all at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. A matinee show is set for 2 p.m. Saturday. Shows run approximately two hours, with a 15-minute intermission in each. Viewership is recommended for ages 13 and older, but the show is open to all.
Tickets cost $30 for adults, $25 for seniors and $20 for students via the arts center website. Groups of 10 or more can purchase the group price for $22 per ticket. Livestream tickets are available for $12 each via the Arts Center website.
Online ticket sales end one hour prior to each showtime. Those interested in purchasing tickets after that window of time can call the arts center at 785-843-2787.
Visit The Exultant Stag’s event page via the arts center’s website for more information.