Ezra Dickinson’s mother is schizophrenic, and my mother died of cancer. These might be assumed to be fairly different circumstances, but the social and familial implications of both illnesses are quite similar, especially the idea of a child becoming a parent to the adult and the strong reactions from society. However, one situation receives a lot of sympathetic attention, and the other receives very little. This frustrates me. Upon hearing people question why there are benefits for cancer patients and none for the mentally ill, I realized that my primary experience with illness is one of privilege. On one hand, I find that revelation humbling. On the other, I can’t stand it, because there really shouldn’t be that much of a gap in response to one type of illness over another.
After watching Ezra’s Mother for You I Made This a few weeks later, I spent a long time being silent, thinking about the way I had perceived the piece and how others—especially the unintended audience—reacted to it. One question I kept returning to: how can society treat people who see so much in such a terrible way? This question is deeply embedded in the last section of Ezra’s performance, in which he descends a staircase wearing the mask of a blue dinosaur-like creature. In that moment I felt a true appreciation for all that the mind can do. Who cares if it’s “real” or not? People who spend their lives seeing more than what may or may not be “real” should not be chastised for that sight. There used to be a place for people with mental illness in society. In some cultures there is still a place, as seers and shamans or wise men and women. Whatever the title, cultures made a place for them and accepted them. Right now there are few places in our culture for the mentally ill, and many of them end up on the street.
Ezra has done a brave thing by starting this conversation. The way his mother has been treated reflects a major flaw in our society. So far I haven’t been able to walk downtown without considering these issues, and every time I see someone curled up on the street I have to wonder why they’re there. The awareness that Ezra has created is palpable, and this conversation deserves continuation. How can we come to the aid of all those who need help?
Lexi Hamill is Velocity Dance Center’s Dramaturgical Intern. As student at Cornish College of the Arts, she is pursuing a degree in Theater with an emphasis in Original Works and Dramaturgy. Along with her studies she is also an active member of The Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas.