September 29, 2009 — Award-winning actresses Sarah Jones and Glenn Close transfixed an audience of more than 500 with a deeply affecting original performance piece at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College.
Under My Hat is a series of character sketches based on interviews Ms. Jones conducted with Fountain House members and other personal accounts of mental illness researched by both performers. In the show, each character responds to an invisible interviewer whose questions often begin with, “What were you wearing on your head when you first noticed a difference in your thoughts?” Hats are a clever construct that mark each seamless character change and allude to the secretive attitude that still surrounds mental illness due to stigma.
From this springboard, many vividly realized characters tell their stories of illness and recovery. We meet the Upper East Side socialite with bi-polar disorder, the Latino veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the tight-lipped Montana rancher whose son committed suicide, and the over-achieving Indian medical student who cuts herself, among others. The diversity of people portrayed in Under My Hat is a testament to both actress’ outstanding abilities and to the fact that mental health concerns cut across every segment of society.
A cocktail reception followed the performance. Notable attendees included Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme, actors Anthony Edwards, Julianne Michelle, Byrdie Bell, and president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art, Agnes Gund.
Under My Hat was a very special collaborative effort that brought together several of our neighbors in Hell’s Kitchen. We sought the support of our local houses of faith, and we were excited that Rev. Richard Baker of St. Malachy’s Actors’ Chapel, Rabbi Jill Hausman of the The Actor’s Temple, and Rev. Paul Schmiege of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church all served on the benefit committee and attended the event.
The event also strengthened our partnership with Hunter College, where many of our members and staff are students and alumni. Professors and theatre personnel from the college attended Under My Hat – a unique way to reinforce our mutual commitments to support the educational aspirations of students living with mental illness. The strong relationships we maintain with colleges throughout the City University of New York (CUNY) system contribute to the success of the Fountain House Education Program, which is the largest program of its kind in the United States.
Fountain House is grateful for the generosity of all our sponsors and their commitment to our common goal of eradicating stigma: Pfizer Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, T.P.U. Local One, I.A.T.S.E., Oren’s Daily Roast, (Oops) Wine, and PopChips. A local cafe, Bis.Co. Latte, generously donated their delicious hand-made biscotti to be served at the reception.