Charlestown resident and accomplished viola player Marcia Zuckerman will take part in “Stigma-Free at Symphony Hall,” a free concert aimed at audience members with mental illnesses and their allies, but open to all.
The Stigma-Free concert will be produced by Me2/, of which Zuckerman is a member, and performed at Boston’s storied Symphony Hall on January 23. Some players will share onstage personal stories of navigating their illness, and their musical journeys.
Founded in 2011 by Music Director and Conductor Ronald Braunstein, New England-based Me2/ (“me, too”) is classical music organization created for musicians living with mental illnesses and the people who support them. Braunstein, whose rising career as a world-class conductor was cut short due to the stigma surrounding his bipolar disorder diagnosis, will bring together 100 of its regional players for the concert.
“We are a large collection of musicians who range greatly in age and ability,” said Braunstein. “I can’t wait to see what happens when we converge at Symphony Hall to play those first few notes. I expect it will be electrifying for us and for our audiences.”
Me2/ gives regional musicians of all abilities a creative home and presents concerts of high-quality music throughout New England. Me2/ performances weave classical music with personal stories from musicians and lively Q&A sessions.
Executive Director Caroline Whiddon says a more-welcoming approach to people with mental illness is timely, considering psychological impacts of the pandemic and the broader conversation it raised about acknowledging mental health needs in America.
“From a social justice and inclusion standpoint,” said Whiddon, adding half of Me2/’s musicians live with a diagnosis — bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD, trauma, depression, addiction or anxiety. “It’s powerful for audience members to be free of traditional expectations at a classical music concert, and to see people like themselves on stage.”
Whiddon says the group works to create stigma-free zones in its own rehearsals, backstage, and at other gatherings, so offering the same for audience members was a natural step. She notes some people living with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, PTSD or addiction may have anxiety about the expectations around attending classical music performances.
“We plan to make everyone comfortable at this performance by taking the pressure off the experience of attending a concert,” Whiddon says. “Our philosophy is ‘come any way you can,’ ‘be who you are’ and ‘do what you need to do while you’re here.’”
Among the accommodations planned for the performance: ushers, volunteers and audience service staff at Symphony Hall will assist people to move about the Hall if staying seated becomes uncomfortable for them. Quiet locations will be designated throughout the facility for visitors who need a break from the music or the crowd. For audience members needing advance preparation, Me2/ will provide social narrative materials a few days before the event.
Me2/ and Symphony Hall are committed to full physical accessibility too. Accessible seating and assistive listening devices are available on site. Information about large print and Braille programs will be sent to ticket holders in advance. Service animals are welcomed in Symphony Hall.
“Stigma-Free at Symphony Hall” is free. RSVPs are required at bso.org/events/me2-orchestra. This concert follows Symphony Hall COVID safety protocols: vaccination proof and a matching ID is required for all attendees. Seating is general admission.