"Dear Evan Hansen" Creators Speak At Mental Health Roundtable

By David Konow 05/14/18

The creators shared how the musical has made an impact on those dealing with mental health issues during a roundtable for Time magazine.

 Steven Levenson and Dr. Harold Koplewicz
"Dear Evan Hansen" writer Steven Levenson and Dr. Harold Koplewicz discussing mental health at the Time magazine roundtable Photo via YouTube

Since debuting on Broadway in 2016, Dear Evan Hansen has won great acclaim, and it swept up six Tony Awards last year, including Best Musical.

The show, which follows the titular character as he navigates having social anxiety in high school, has struck a chord with many people in how it deals with issues of social anxiety, teenage suicide and how mental health issues can be compounded by social media.

The creators behind Dear Evan Hansen recently spoke at a roundtable for Time magazine in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month.

The show’s producer Stacey Mindich discussed the stigmas that were addressed when preparing to promote the show. 

“In early marketing meetings, we stayed away from words like suicide and mental health—for fear of being known as ‘the suicide musical,’" she said. "But once we saw just how the show was affecting people, we realized that some things are more important than marketing messages and talking points, and we quickly embraced our unique ability to impact mental health stigmas.”

The creators of Dear Evan Hansen have heard from thousands of fans who were moved by the show and could empathize with the lead character.

One teenage fan of the show who spoke at the mental health roundtable said, “When you are a teenager, part of the reason everything literally feels so intense is because you haven’t gone through it before, so you have no survivor toolbox of how to get through this situation.”

The teen attended the show with her mother and was moved to tears. Many parents apparently see the show as a window into their children’s lives.

Steven Levenson, who wrote the book for the musical, said, “I think ultimately, all we’re ever trying to do is to get an audience to look on stage and say, ‘Oh that’s me.’”

In 2017, he told Mashable, “People felt really relieved to finally have a way of talking about these things with one another. Parents could talk to their kids about it, kids could talk to their parents, by talking about the show instead of [themselves]. It was an easier way to get into the conversation.”

Actress/activist Rowan Blanchard (Girl Meets World, The Goldbergs) also spoke about her mental health experiences at the roundtable.

“We grew up into this world where empowerment was the goal and happiness was the goal, so when people ask us how we are, you just want to answer in the way that you think sells best or the way that is most appropriate,” she explained. “Especially for girls, but that goes further—people who are not white, people who are queer, there’s so much stigma to be happier or to be more secure in your identity, and there’s less room to talk about how you actually feel.”

Also appearing on the board were Dr. Harold Koplewicz of the Child Mind Institute, and John MacPhee of the Jed Foundation, another organization that focuses on young people’s mental health. 

"The country is reaching a tipping point. I think we’re becoming more open to these things, and it’s because treatment works," said Koplewicz. "When people feel there’s hope, they’re more likely to raise their hand and say, ‘I’m ready to do this.’”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.