A world premiere in Hialeah? Yes, and even though it’s not a Broadway show, it has the potential to be infinitely more important and impactful.
It’s called “I Am Me,” a play produced by the Arsht Center and specifically designed to help high school students cope with stress, anxiety, and depression.
“So it uses the art of storytelling for young people to talk about maybe some situations or topics that may be a little taboo to talk about and it uses the arts for self-expression,” said Jairo Ontiveros of the Arsht Center.
Educators say the pandemic exacerbated the mental health issues of teenagers. A Pew Research survey showed 70% of American teens considered depression and anxiety to be major problems with their peers or themselves. Even though the process of writing the play started before the pandemic, it arrives at a perfect time.
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“Fear of not making my parents proud, not graduating, not succeeding for their sacrifice,” says one character, a Cuban-American describing the anxieties he feels.
The actors onstage are portraying characters directly reflected by the audience of freshmen. “I Am Me” was written and produced specifically for 9th graders.
“I know a lot of my friends that are struggling with mental health issues, it’s very common especially with ninth graders who are adjusting with the transition of going into high school,” said Allyson Diaz-Rubio, a freshman at the school.
The freshman class at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High is the first to see the play.
“This play covered topics from depression to anxiety to stress to not being part of a group and maybe it focuses on those kids who don’t feel comfortable talking about it in an open setting,” said freshman Maurits Acosta.
“It tells them that you’re not alone, you have friends, you have family, you have people at school that can help you to deal with those issues,” freshman Gabriella Vega said.
“I do think that it can help with the mental issues that kids may have because they can see that others acknowledge their problems going on,” said Stephanie Rodriguez, also a 9th grader.
“Too many responsibilities draining me to exhaustion, and all I want to do is ask for a break and have some time to be myself!” said a character in the play who has to take care of her younger siblings after school.
Thousands of kids in Miami-Dade County can relate to that situation. The message of the play is there’s help and understanding for students. Whether it’s fear of academic failure or coming out to their family, there are many other kids going through the same issues, and counseling is available at school.
In a partnership with the school district, the Arsht Center will bring “I Am Me” to every high school in the county.