By Jamie Helmick
I am a community member here in Iowa City. I attended the March 8 production of The Wild, Wild, Wildest West at South East Junior High. One of the youth in my youth group is a member of the cast and I came to the show to support them.
However, when I was reading through the program, I noticed that one of the character’s names was “Schizophrenic Kid.” As one of the approximately 9.8 million people in the United States who has a serious mental illness, I was aghast that this play was chosen and approved for junior high students to perform. I am perplexed about how this play could be considered appropriate for any students because of the stigmatizing character of “Schizophrenic Kid.” I am worried about the youth and adults who went to see and laugh at this play going out into the world thinking that throwing around the word “schizophrenic” is not a big deal. It is a big deal and can cause confusion, emotional pain and a spread of ignorance that feeds into the negative stigma associated with mental illness.
Thankfully, we have an excellent local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) affiliate — NAMI Johnson County. Mary Issah, the executive director of NAMI Johnson County, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (319) 337-5400. NAMI has many resources about mental illness that will be helpful to our community as a whole.
The youth did a very good job performing the musical they were given, but it left a bitter taste in my mouth.
I hope when choosing the next play and musical, better care will be taken to properly vet them. I sent emails to Principal Cook and Ms. Finger, who was the director of the play.
In this wonderful community of Iowa City, I cannot fathom that a junior high would choose a play with a character who is called “Schizophrenic Kid,” uses the word “sissy” more than once, and has racist overtones. I would like everyone to know that Iowa City and their schools are better than this.