Local Playwright Demands Conversation on Black Mental Health


Somerville, MA – At the age of twelve, local writer Marshall “Gripp” Gillson already knew something was wrong. Even as a child, he was anxious, isolated, suicidal, and confused. It was around that time that he started writing, trying to decipher his emotions in a notebook he kept hidden under his mattress. Twenty years later, he has come to realize that he’s not as alone as he thought, and that writing can be an important tool for learning about what ails our communities, too. On July 7 at 1:30PM at Arts at the Armory in Somerville, Gillson will present a performance of his new story, Alone Together—which he describes as a “closet screenplay”—along with a public forum on black mental health.

The show, supported by funds from the Somerville Arts Council, centers on a black couple trapped inside during a blizzard, struggling to make peace not only with each other, but with personified specters of their mental health issues. “The characters are flawed,” Gillson insists. “I didn’t want anyone to come away believing in easy answers. The intersection of race and mental health is complicated.”

The show will include a table read of the script, with the two main characters being played by area actors Mindy Britto and Christian Thomas, as well as an open discussion on mental health, with panelist Dr. Charmain Jackman. The goal, says Gillson, is to encourage audience members to be proactive about protecting their own mental health in the face of an unforgiving world. “There is a lot of stigma around struggling with mental health,” he laments. “But everyone has moods. Everyone has emotions. Even if you don’t have a history of depression or anxiety, you have to spend time caring for your mental health just like your physical health.”

Though he grew up in Providence, RI, Gillson has lived in Somerville since 2013. In that time, he has been an active member of several arts communities, appearing in plays and films, as well as helping Boston’s House Slam poetry team rank third nationally in both 2016 and 2017. In that time, he has developed a reputation as an advocate for mental health, performing pieces that address the way depression affects his partners, his family, and himself. Recently, he has transitioned to longer form work, winning grants from the Somerville Arts Council and the Boston Foundation to produce live shows, as well as penning a short film scheduled to premiere at the Roxbury Film Festival later this month. “All my work tries to address the social conditions in which it was created,” says the artist. “My goal as a writer is always to give new language to people struggling with things they can’t yet describe.”

Tickets to Alone Together are available online from Eventbrite. The show is free, but a ticket is required to guarantee a seat.