By Ronda Payne/Special to the Langley Advance
Langley Fine Arts (LFA) Grade 12 student Taylor McKee is a busy teenager.
Like many kids her age at LFA, she’s involved in a wide range of singing and dancing activities that put a lot on her schedule.
One day it just became too much and the anxiety she’d experienced as a youngster transformed into depression and she didn’t know what to do.
“I’ve always struggled with my mental health. It wasn’t until later in elementary school that a teacher identified it for what it was. Anxiety,” she recounted.
“Last year, it just got to be too much. I was burning myself out,” she said. “My family encouraged me to go seek help. I found something that worked for me.”
McKee was helped by cognitive behaviour therapy, but noted that not every young person is as lucky to find tools that work.
They may not know where to look or they may not have support to encourage them to find help, she said.
“I started speaking to family and friends openly about what I was going through,” McKee explained. “I was shocked because every single person I spoke to had a connection to [mental health issues]. I was confused as to why there was such a stigma around it. The stigma can be really harmful and stops us from getting the help we need.”
Being surrounded by the arts, McKee saw how activities like singing, painting, and creating could affect people positively, but also negatively – when it led to too much stress and pressure.
She recognized the natural link between mental health and the arts in how people express themselves and tell their story.
“The idea just kind of came to me. It’s just kind of a natural combination of mental health and the arts,” said the creator of Let’s Face It, a variety show of sorts being held locally today as a fundraiser and awareness builder for mental health.
“I pitched it to some friends and everyone just totally jumped on board and loved the idea,” McKee said.
While she has been on stage a number of times, she didn’t know much about the finer points of back-stage work and pulling together a show the magnitude of Let’s Face It.
The show has more than 70 young people from all across the Lower Mainland involved. And it will run about two and a half hours long with about 20 different acts.
The variety show debuts Wednesday, May 1 at Chief Sepass Theatre and runs again Tuesday, May 7 – which is National Child and Youth Mental Health Day – at The Cultch in Vancouver (York theatre).
McKee needed some help to pull it all together, but as she explained, help wasn’t hard to find.
“We’ve got a big team,” she explained.
“I started kind of spreading the idea of it over the summer, but organizing and renting the theatres came into place in September.”
Langley School District 35 covered the costs of the Chief Sepass Theatre, while the Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation was instrumental in paying for The Cultch up front.
This expense of renting the theatre will be returned to the non-profit organization as all proceeds from the show will be donated to it.
“I was looking for different foundations that would work for supporting youth mental health and I got connected with the Kelty Resource Centre,” McKee said.
“I went to their site in [BC] Children’s Hospital. They support and they provide mental health resources for young people in B.C. They have been so lovely and so supportive of the project.”
The foundation and resource centre were established by a family who lost their son to teen suicide.
It was the right fit for McKee’s project.
When she looked at statistic, she found another fit. Every year in B.C. about 63 young people die from suicide.
“That’s just about the same number of people in our show,” she explained. “It’s a variety show filled with dance and visual art and music and video, spoken word, photography, just about anything… and approximately 63 performers.”
McKee received her certification in suicide intervention through Living Works and now speaks to youth throughout the Lower Mainland about mental health.
She will also be found performing in Mamma Mia in Stanley Park with Theatre Under the Stars this summer.
She credits her family for their support in making the shows happen, along with stage manager Jamie Reber and Hannah Zemp who is creating a film about the project.
Visit letsfaceitshow.com for more details. Tickets for both shows are $25 and they both begin at 7 p.m.
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