This show can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvu3ntfnUPc&feature=youtu.be
Loudoun Valley High School
It only takes a word to breed a thousand horrible thoughts, and the act of living holds endless terrifying possibilities. For someone who struggles with anxiety, it feels impossible to make other people understand what they are going through. Stellar Mind allows others into that world by putting a voice to a battle that is often silent.
Written and directed by Grace Lane and Madeleine Tyler, Stellar Mind depicts some moments during the typical day of the protagonist, Stella, a high school senior who has anxiety. Her best friend Adam has been hearing from colleges, and she has not. She had planned to go to a school near his, but that may be impossible. With her anxiety hounding her at every turn, she internalizes more and more, analyzing every word and expression in a way that is almost torturous to herself. The show ends on a more constructive note, however, with Stella in therapy, and the idea of growth. The message of the piece, progress is not linear - displayed on a title card after the last shot of the story - is evident through every scene in the show. Overall, it is a sincere, lucid voice for those with mental illness; one that promises a way onward.
The writers were inspired by their own struggles with anxiety and other mental illness, and this was reflected in the truth of their product. The dialogue, both internal and external, had a mundanity to it that made it very emotionally honest. Anxiety, a voice-over played by Isabella Jackson, treated Stella to a very familiar barrage of ‘what-ifs’ that could stem from anything - a revealed secret about Adam’s college choice or simply the act of walking to a car. Anxiety’s seeming hatred of the protagonist drove the plot forward in a constant forward nosedive towards Stella’s inevitable breaking point. There was never a scene that felt unnecessary, but rather each scene fit with the rest to make clear Anxiety’s constancy, and its near complete control of Stella. The story ended brilliantly with Stella in the car, breathing through the aftermath of a panic attack, and with Stella in therapy. There was no easy solution, but the protagonist was able to keep going. A completely true resolution to a true story.
The performances of the three actors involved left little to be desired. Emma Dunlop, who played Stella, offered a balancing gravity to counter Jackson’s frantic anxious leaps. Her physical reactions to anxiety, tugging at her necklace or her hair, felt particularly real. The strong chemistry between Stella and Ethan Clayman, who played Adam, particularly enhanced the story. Their friendship was a constant in the show and it was natural throughout. Clayman as Adam was a strong calming presence, his easy smile acting as a foil to Stella’s restraint. Samantha Hayes, playing Marley, had a smaller piece of the story, but she still made herself understood through expressive reactions.
Stellar Mind is a clever, relatable, and vulnerable work. It presents anxiety in a way that can be grasped by anyone watching, while losing very little of the nuance of a human mind. As the credits were rolling, accompanied by a montage of out-of-character moments with the main actors, showing them laughing and enjoying each other, with Rowan Clark performing her professional, indie-esque song to round off the tone of the story, what lingered was a deep sense of carrying on. We will all laugh again, Stellar Mind says, even if it seems impossible right now. As Adam tells Stella at the close of every conversation, remember to breathe.
Leydi Cris Cobo Cordon
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
You never know what’s going on in someone else’s head. Fairfax High School’s important performance of Stellar Mind was grounded in realism, showing the fluctuating relationship between Stella and her anxiety.
Stellar Mind, the completely student-created one act, has just had its virtual debut. Grace Lane and Madeleine Tyler - the playwrights, directors, and editors - used their own experiences to tell the realistic story of a girl, Stella, who experienced anxiety. Stella and Adam were high school seniors and long-time friends. Adam had begun to hear back from the colleges he applied to, but Stella still hadn’t heard anything. She began to worry about being far apart and losing him. Her inner dialogue was intense as she tried to face off against the relentless thoughts brought up by her anxiety. At the end of the show, Stella had made her way to a therapist’s office and viewers were told that “progress isn’t linear,” reminding them to be kinder to themselves.
Emma Dunlop brought the role of Stella to life through her realistic portrayal of anxious mannerisms, intentionally fidgeting with her necklace during moments where she felt the most worried. She truly shined in the scene where Stella was left alone with Marley. There was a clear difference between her inner turmoil, voiced by Isabella Jackson, and her gentler responses to Marley’s persistent attempts to meet up with her and Adam.
Despite having little screen time, Samantha Hayes made the most of it as Marley. Her use of subtle facial expressions was marvelous, masterfully adapting her theater skills for the small screen. Hayes’ focus on the small details was what brought her performance to the next level. As Marley talked to Stella about Adam, Hayes took out a tube of lipstick and applied it, showing her flirtatious feelings towards him.
Stella’s emotional journey was underscored by completely original music composed and performed by Rowan Clark, who attends WT Woodson High School. The songs were well-written and were of great quality. This fantastic artistic element added to the production, allowing the editors to play songs that were made to reflect what Stella was feeling. The soundtrack was also used to tie the bloopers back to the show by playing in the background and even including clips of Clark singing.
The bloopers, which played at the end of the performance, were a fun treat that allowed viewers to connect with the artists behind the show. They served as a reminder of all the work put into creating this performance. It was also a nice way of gently easing the viewers’ emotions after Stella’s outburst towards the end of the one act.
Grace Lane and Madeleine Tyler’s editing was expertly done. Anxiety’s voiceover matched up well with Stella’s responses in all the car scenes. Lane and Tyler were also able to use their directing and editing skills to create a good sense of timing. None of the scenes were choppy and the dialogue lined up perfectly, which is an amazing feat in a virtual setting.
From the acting to editing to writing, all aspects of the performance were realistic and tried to tell an honest story that wasn’t magically resolved. The team of students working on Stellar Mind succeeded in telling a powerful and relatable story that reassures viewers of many things: be kinder to yourself, other people go through similar experiences, check up on your friends, and of course, progress isn’t linear.