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Local production ‘A Will to Survive’ heads to the Kennedy Center

A performance from A Place to Be music therapy group, “A Will to Survive” featuring Ann-Charlotte Robinson, left, will show at the Kennedy Center Nov. 19. Courtesy Photo
In a county constantly working to tackle the problem of youth suicide and depression, Tom Sweitzer, executive director and co-founder of A Place to Be, hoped “A Will to Survive,” would have a far-reaching message.

That has turned out to be true, and the musical will have an opportunity to reach an even greater audience later this fall at the Kennedy Center.

Philanthropist and Mars candy heiress Jacqueline Mars of The Plains saw one of the show’s performances and was so moved she wanted to help the group spread its message to an even broader audience. So she decided to sponsor a show at the Kennedy Center, which is now slated for November.

Written in February 2016, “A Will to Survive” was inspired by Loudoun County resident Will Robinson, who died by suicide at age 17 on Jan. 14, 2016. The musical is performed by teens for teens and aims to get young people talking about depression, suicide prevention and accepting others and themselves.

“I certainly never expected that 'A Will to Survive' was going to reach such a broad audience, and it is truly gratifying,” Ann-Charlotte Robinson, Will's mother, said. “These performances play an important role in stimulating the awareness and discussion that we need to break the shame and silence that has contributed to this problem for such a long time. Bringing the show to the high-profile stage of the Kennedy Center is going to magnify what we are trying to do in a really significant way, and we are so grateful to Ms. Jacqueline Mars and the Kennedy Center for making it possible.”

Since the day Will took his life, eight more Loudoun teens have taken theirs, Sweitzer said. The show hopes to remind teens they are not alone and to expose them to coping mechanisms and resources they can turn to when they feel hopeless.

“Although the show is about William, it’s about our society today. So there’s social media, there’s pressure that young people feel,” said Sweitzer, whose A Place to Be focuses on the power of music therapy.

“A Will to Survive” toured multiple schools this past year and has been seen by 23,000 students so far. Sweitzer said Loudoun County Public Schools has been an important partner in spreading the message of acceptance and hope, along with the Claude Moore Foundation, Inova hospitals and the Loudoun Education Fund.

“The Loudoun schools believed in us. They gave us the chance to come into all their high schools which is huge,” Sweitzer said.

Sweitzer’s background is in music theater and music therapy. He teamed up with Cedric Dimapilis, whose background is in indie and alternative rock, to create a musical with a modern sound that would appeal to county students. The cast is made up of actors ages 15 to 22, with about half Loudoun residents and the other half coming from surrounding counties.

In addition to the music, the show has a talk portion where the cast interacts with the audience, which often leaves an impression on Loudoun’s youth. Sweitzer said one of the most profound moments he’s had as a therapist and writer was when he ran into a girl wearing a “Will to Survive” bracelet. She was crying and he went up to her and asked her where she got her bracelet.

“She said, ‘I got it at my school because I saw this musical,’ and she had no idea who I was,” Sweitzer said. “And she said, ‘It really actually saved my life because they have this song at the end called Reach Out so I called my family and I called a hospital for help last week.’”

Sweitzer said her openness and honesty with a complete stranger blew him away, and reminded him of the importance of the show.

Audience members also have the opportunity to connect with Will’s mother, Robinson, who is an integral element of the show, Sweitzer said.

Performances will resume across the county in the form of assemblies, except for a 7 p.m. Oct. 16 performance at Loudoun County High School. “A Will to Survive” will be at the Kennedy Center at 7 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Terrace Theater. Admission for both performances is free. Tickets for the Kennedy Center performance will be available online beginning Oct. 1.


Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @VeronikeCollazo.

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