Express Yourself

Express Yourself

Express Yourself, Inc.
200 Rantoul Street
Beverly, MA 01915
Phone: 978-532-2489
Fax: 978-532-4409

Focus: Dance, Theater, Visual Arts

Annual Number Participating: 350

Ages: Elementary, Middle School, High School

Annual Budget: $250,000


“Every spring, some 200 young people from across Massachusetts take to the stage of Boston’s ornate, historic Wang Theater. Before an enthusiastic audience of family, friends, and community supporters, they stage a vibrant, high-energy performance filled with singing, dancing, and drumming.

This production is particularly compelling because many of the performers are coping with mental illness. Their lives have often been marked by failure, rejection, frustration, and isolation. To be “in the spotlight”—collaborating with others, expressing themselves creatively, and being celebrated for their contributions—is truly a special moment for them all, one that brings smiles to the faces of participants and that moves many in the audience to tears.

The theatrical event is the culmination of a carefully structured 10-month-long program known as Express Yourself (EY). During the fall, EY’s professional artists, in cooperation with Department of Mental Health (DMH) staff, work with groups of young people on multidisciplinary art projects at in-patient facilities, as well as at EY’s Beverly, Massachusetts, studio.

In September, the youth, mentors, and artists coordinators choose a theme for the performance; and in January, artists begin working with the students to design individual visual art pieces that will eventually form a striking three-dimensional set. From March through May, the artists, youth, and DMH staff collaborate to develop the songs, dances, and instrumental pieces that will be part of the performance. To spice up musical or dance numbers, EY brings in guest artists from such organizations as the Boston Pops, Blue Man Group, and STOMP. In addition, EY recruits about 50 at-risk students from the community and youth from local prep schools who participate in the performance and serve as mentors to the other youth.

“Art is a great equalizer. Everyone has a creative spirit, and the youth support each other to rise to the occasion,” explains EY Co-Director Paula Conrad. The experience also instills confidence. “The participants feel they’ve taken a creative risk and accomplished something that many people could not do,” Co-Director and Artistic Director Stan Strickland adds. “They feel seen and heard and celebrated by the community.” And that can be a rare experience, indeed, for many young people living with mental illness.”

“Self-expression, especially for young people, is critical to recovery from mental illness. When I see these remarkable kids on the Citi Wang stage, I know that something—art, music, dance, performing—has touched them and moved them from a place of illness to a place of confidence and hope. Our young stars show us that recovery is more than possible—they really shine!”

Barbara A. Leadholm, MS, MBA Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Mental Health