PLAN-B Theater Company showcased “Zombie Thoughts,” a children’s play portraying general anxiety disorder through a virtual video game world, on Oct. 8 at Weber State University.
The play has two characters, Sam and Pig. Playing these characters are WSU Alumni Katie Jones Nall and Alicia Washington.
Sam is a moody, negative child who experiences overwhelming thoughts that cause her anxiety and make her feel as though she isn’t good enough.
Pig is a care-free sidekick who doesn’t quite understand what Sam is going through but wants to help her get through it.
The cast interacted with the audience, who became characters in the game and helped Sam and Pig on their adventures. To kick off the play, the audience voted on which actor would play which character.
Together, the two characters conquer their virtual world and Sam’s biggest fears and learn how to cope with anxiety.
Cheryl Cluff, managing director of PLAN-B Theater Company in Salt Lake, teamed up with Jennifer Kokai and worked for two years to produce “Zombie Thoughts.”
Kokai and her son, Oliver Kokai-Means, co-wrote the play. At the time, Oliver was a nine-year-old fourth grader. Means suffers from generalized anxiety disorder and the play portrays his fears and coping methods.
Because Means was intimately familiar with the hardships of anxiety disorders, he was equipped to communicate that information to the cast to help them have a better understanding of what he goes through.
“What shapes his life experience right now is his anxiety disorder,” Kokai said. “It’s really impacted school, making friends and our lives. He was interested in this opportunity to have a voice and share his experience with other kids and teachers and to communicate what that feels like.”
PLAN-B Theater Company seeks to tackle social issues for children. They have produced plays focused on bullying, body image and grief. Cluff stressed the importance of talking about mental illness.
“For kids with anxiety, it helps them, shows them things they can do. It also helps other people who are surrounding those kids,” Cluff said. “It’s really important.”
It was important to get the facts straight and accurate for the mother-son duo, to reinforce the theme of coping techniques.
“To break it down and to help them talk about it, identify it and provide basic tools helps them,” Washington said. “They can walk out empowered.”
The show will continue through October to serve 8,000 elementary students in grades 4-6 at 46 different Utah schools.