For over a decade, Boston-based solo performer Michael Mack has been preaching a kind of gospel.
The good news?
mother's recovery from schizophrenia, as told in his
one-man play Hearing Voices, Speaking in Tongues .
was five years old when his
mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and his
80-minute performance chronicles her
decades-long odyssey through psychosis into redemption.
"My mother's illness profoundly shaped me," Mack
thinks of the show as "a kind of calling.
It chose me." After serving in the US Air Force, Mack enrolled at MIT's prestigious Sloan School of Management, expecting to major in business science.
took a poetry class for elective credit -- "I needed an easy A" -- but the course changed his
Childhood memories poured onto the page as poems.
Encouraged by his mentor, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Maxine Kumin, and by Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, Mack changed majors and graduated from MIT's Writing Program.
In Boston's thriving poetry scene, Mack
became a poetry slam champion, and represented Boston at the National Poetry Slam in 1998 and 1999.
An audience member at a Cambridge venue invited Mack
to share his
work at a local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Word spread, and soon he
was presenting at statewide and national mental health conferences for NAMI
and other mental health organizations.
is in demand especially during National Mental Health Month (May) and Mental Illness Awareness Week (in October), using the annual observances to raise public awareness about mental illness, and to help reduce misunderstanding and stigma.
In additional to traditional theatrical engagements -- including a six week run Off-Off-Broadway -- Mack
now performs regularly for mental health professionals and consumers, including those with chronic illness at state hospitals.
Asked about A Beautiful Mind , the Oscar-winning film about MIT Professor and Nobel Laureate John Nash, whose brilliant career in mathematics was cut short by schizophrenia, Mack
said, "The movie's strength is that it portrays someone with mental illness in more than the usual stereotype.
Michael Mack performing Hearing Voices (Speaking in Tongues)
When Michael Mack
was five, his
mother chopped off her
hair and walked him to the school bus believing she
was the Virgin Mary.
cried uncontrollably Mack
boarded the bus alone, and another boy asked, "Who was that man with you crying so hard?
did not know.
Mack's mother had recently been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
This scene from Mack's one-man lyric drama Hearing Voices, Speaking in Tongues opens the story of his
life with his
mother, who spent decades in and out of state hospitals, halfway houses, jails and homelessness until she
found a remarkable recovery in a state-funded group home.
is performing eight (8) engagements in different New England venues in April and May of 2010 to honor his
mother's life and recovery, and to focus attention on the ongoing need for mental health services in a time of budget cuts.
- who for over a decade has toured nationally with his
acclaimed multi-character one-man show - portrays the helplessness and embarrassment, but also the joy and love he
knew as a child growing up with a parent diagnosed with a major mental illness.
In partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness
(NAMI) of Cambridge/Middlesex, Saint Paul Catholic Church
, the Grolier Poetry Bookshop , and many other organizations, Mack
is launching this campaign of shows in April and May (National Mental Health Month) to underscore how mental illness affects patients and their families, and how state funding can help.
One out of every five families has a family member with a major mental illness, Mack said.
Mama wouldn't have found the recovery she
had without help from state agencies and programs like those now facing cuts.
Millions of families depend on these services for their loved ones.
In his 90-minute lyric memoir, Mack
plays himself, his mother, her doctor, his father, and even Frank Sinatra (Mack's mom was a fan) portraying his family's decades-long struggle until his mother found recovery in an outstanding state-supported group home.
Hearing Voices, Speaking in Tongues began with a poetry class Mack took while enrolled at MIT's Sloan School of Management.
© Michael Mack