SUICIDAL LIFE COACH: A SERIOUS COMEDY, BY R.K. RICH; DIRECTED BY JOE LANGWORTH, premiering in New York, MONDAY, AUGUST 27, AT 9:00 PM; WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 29, AT 9:00 PM; SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, AT 6:00 PM at the HUDSON GUILD THEATER, 441 W. 26TH STREET, NYC.
Personal Safety, Inc. (PSI) is proud to continue the conversation aimed to de-stigmatize mental health issues such as depression and suicidal ideation though over-the-top humor of Suicidal Life Coach by R. K. Rich.
It’s life coach Fred Sigman’s wedding day. His fiancée is histrionic, mercurial, and already planning their annulment! No wonder he’s depressed! Believing that laughter is, indeed, the best medicine, this play employs over-the-top humor to address the serious realities of depression while offering strategies to help loosen the grips of despair, hopelessness, and helplessness.
Mr. Rich recently shared, “everyone has always said, ‘write about what you know,” so I did. While it seems to be under control now or for now, I’ve battled depression for several years. The more I was willing to share my struggles, the more I found others who were suffering in silence and in shame. I felt compelled to be a part of the solution or at least to try to be! That is what underlies this play. I’ve created a world that allows me to share the best parts of my life coaching practice and my quirky sense of humor. I know that laughter has been the only thing that saved me from the deepest levels of darkness.”
Suicidal Life Coach is part of the New York Theater Festival – Summerfest, an ongoing series of new works at the Hudson Guild Theatre.
The playwright took some time to chat with Ai about his challenging work.
Tell Us About Yourself as an Artist.
I believe that it’s better left to audiences to truly define the art of another. The words that people use most often in response to my work are quirky, hysterical, clever, heartfelt and vulnerable. The one common thread sewn throughout all of my professional endeavors is that I do my best to help people get from where they are to where they want to be.
Tell us about what was the inspiration of the play.
The original inspiration for the play was borne out of a harsh reality – I was (and am) a highly-paid life coach who alternated from helping clients at a high level to laying on the floor in a deep depression. My phone alarm would go off five minutes before a session, and I would jump up, pull myself together for the hour-long session, listen, focus, and help my clients, then right back to the floor. While I have never been suicidal, and this line is mirrored in the show, there were many nights where I hoped not to wake up the next morning. As I used (and use) humor as a coping mechanism, it was obvious to me that there was a story to be told with such an extreme juxtaposition of behaviors.
So your coping mechanism is humor. What does that look-like in a play? What’s your thought process?
Charlie Chaplin has been quoted as saying, “Pain plus time equals comedy.” That has always resonated with me. The goal, therefore, is to have the amount of time between the pain and the comedy be as little as possible. I also think that if we can look at the darkest experiences through a filter of light or humor, it becomes accessible in ways that dealing with a serious topic super seriously does not. While I don’t put Suicidal Life Coach in the same category as Life is Beautiful — I can only hope to write something so brilliantly well – I aspired to tackle depression in a way similar to the way Life is Beautiful found a way to be comedic against the backdrop of the Holocaust. There’s such a stigma attached to mental health issues that I wanted to start or continue the conversation, hopefully create work that is good enough to give me just enough of a voice to say, “I’ve struggled with depression, too. It’s okay. Ask for help. There are answers. I made it through, so can you!”
I see this a lot but never asked the question. What’s it like handing over your show to entire group of people and won’t see it until almost showtime?
Knowing that the funding for this play was coming from the non-profit (Personal Safety, Inc.) that I head, I couldn’t justify spending a ton of money on hotels for myself in or near Manhattan. So it was a given that I would work remotely with the director and the team from the beginning. That said, I have, according to some, been a bit of a control freak in the past. I can neither confirm nor deny such rumors except to say, “they’re true!” Luckily or by design, I studied the art of collaboration as part of my coursework in grad school. I had the opportunity to interview Broadway people like actors Lisa Brescia, composer-lyricists Stephen Schwartz and Andrew Lippa, music directors Stephen Oremus and Alex Lacamoire (should I bend down to pick up those names I just dropped?). One of the common themes was you have to believe that everyone in the room has a reason to be there and to let them do what they are there to do. Fortunately for me, I found a director, Joe Langworth, who is so amazingly talented and such a wonderful person that it made the process seamless. We worked remotely for a couple of months; he also served as the dramaturg. I trust and trusted him completely from day one. As a result, it was surprisingly easy to hand off everything but the writing (and producing) to him and the team he assembled.
I’m told you’re a 3X newbie: Your first play in your first festival and your first production in New York!! What’s going through your head.
While I have written screenplays for years, Suicidal Life Coach is the first play I have ever written. On top of that, the New York Theater Festival is my first festival and my first production in New York City. It’s everything you’d imagine – the entire spectrum of emotions from “OMG, I have a show in an Off-Off-Broadway theater” to “what if it’s horrible?” to “what if it’s horrible and no one attends?” Okay, the last one might not be as bad as “what if it’s horrible and sold out?!” Kidding aside for 15 seconds, it’s been a wonderful few months since learning of its inclusion in the festival. The collaboration with Joe has been such a gift. It’s very exciting!!
What made you want to write a play and what have you learned from the experience?
There is nothing more powerful, in terms of entertainment, to me that live theater. There is a magic that happens when people are engaging with people that doesn’t happen in television or film. If something goes wrong in TV or film, you re-shoot and save the outtake for a gag reel. If something goes wrong on stage, you have to deal with it and make it work. That energy and those connections are magical to me as an audience member. I hope that holds true as a playwright!
I’m working as a librettist-lyricist on two musical projects one of which is top secret; the other is a modern day Cyrano inspired story! But, with a little luck, more of my work and collaborations will grace other stages in New York City, regional and community theaters. Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to move Suicidal Life Coach Off-Broadway!
IN REHEARSAL: SUICIDAL LIFE COACH (Photo credit: Lia-Shea Tillett)