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North Texas youth theater company explores mental health crisis in new play

Young people stand in-between large letters spelling "share hope" in front of a glass theater building framed by trees.
Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute
"When we're talking about how can we better support young people, I think we need to hear from young people themselves," said Tegan Henke, with Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. The organization is a sponsor of a new play tackling youth mental health during the pandemic.

A Dallas youth theater company is exploring the way the pandemic affected young people’s mental health through a new play.

Cry Havoc Theater Company’s latest play, The Art of Broken Things, follows a group of college freshman through their orientation at SMU. The play flashes back to each character’s experience through the pandemic, moving through themes of grief, healing and finding support in community.

Ava McKay, 18, acts in the production and helped to co-create the story through hours of character improv with the company.

“It’s been cathartic in some ways, but a lot more reflective,” McKay said. “I’m a very different person than I was at the start of the pandemic. Mentally and emotionally, I feel very lucky to have come out in a more positive place. This show really explores the toll the pandemic has had on youth."

The show is produced in partnership with the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and Okay to Say, the organization’s program promoting mental health conversations.

Tegan Henke, the vice president of community systems innovation, said she’s grateful to hear first-hand from young people about their pandemic experiences and what they need moving forward.

“Often we create these systems of support that are adult-focused, and it maybe doesn’t resonate with a younger population,” Henke said. “I think the importance of a play like this is that it’s really giving us an opportunity to hear directly from the youth, and help us to have open and honest conversations,” Henke said.

Ultimately, McKay is grateful the play presents the characters as fully realized people trying to find their places in the world.

“We are playing people, not diagnoses,” she said. “There isn’t one way that mental health or a certain diagnosis looks like. We are playing people who have lived lives and had varying traumatic experiences.”

She’s hopeful the play will open up conversations not only with other youth, but with the adults in their lives. The Art of Broken Things runs through July 31.

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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Elena Rivera is the health reporter at KERA. Before moving to Dallas, Elena covered health in Southern Colorado for KRCC and Colorado Public Radio. Her stories covered pandemic mental health support, rural community health access issues and vaccine equity across the region.