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From left, Martha Kathryn Smith, Dylan Zucati and Sofía Raquel Sánchez rehearse the play 'Ghosted,' by Trista Baldwin on Wednesday February 13, 2019, at the Seattle Children's Theatre in Seattle. 
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From left, Martha Kathryn Smith, Dylan Zucati and Sofía Raquel Sánchez rehearse the play 'Ghosted,' by Trista Baldwin on Wednesday February 13, 2019, at the Seattle Children's Theatre in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Ghosted: A Seattle play for teens that goes deep

Anxiety. Depression. Rage. Suicidal thoughts.

Those are the subjects of the play "Ghosted," which premieres this weekend at the Seattle Children’s Theatre and will then go on tour to high schools in the state of Washington.

It’s familiar territory for Trista Baldwin, a playwright on Vashon Island. In junior high school, she went through a serious bout of depression. Her brother battled depression as well.

So when the Children’s Theatre asked her to take on the project, she didn’t hesitate.

“I grabbed right onto it,” Baldwin said. “There’s a personal connection in it for me. Just in my experience in the life, the need for this play just shot right through me, you know?”

"Ghosted" is set in a high school, and it opens with two teenagers, Syd and Kayla, meeting outside the school counselor’s office.

Kayla, who is played by actor Sofía Raquel Sánchez, is worried about her boyfriend, Andre, played by Charles Wright.

On the outside, Andre is a popular kid, a good student, and an athlete, but on the inside, he’s struggling with what looks like depression.

“He says he feels like he’s not going to make it to college. He says this weird stuff like he doesn’t feel like he exists, like he’s a ghost," Kayla tells Syd.

"All his parents care about is what university he is going to, and I am like, 'What if he doesn’t make it out the doors of this high school?'" Kayla said.

But Andre doesn’t want to talk about his issues. He doesn’t want to see the school counselor, and he lashes out when Kayla asks too many questions.

Baldwin said it was a challenge to write about these sensitive topics and not turn off teenagers. She got input from educators and mental health professionals. She also tested the play with teenage focus groups. They gave her advice on things like teenage slang.

They also told her not to shy away from really difficult conversations.

“They liked it when I went deep. You know they wanted it to get real. They wanted it to go there,” she said.

The characters are played by professional actors, all in their early to mid 20s. They said the play spoke to them because they faced similar issues when they were in high school.

Actor Charles Wright says he was a lot like Andre. He did a ton of extracurricular activities and he kept busy. He struggled internally, but felt he never had the space to admit it.

“Sensitivity is not something that is embraced in the male culture, especially not black male culture," Wright said. "So if this can show a young kid that, 'Oh, I can talk about how I feel,' that’s all I can ask.”

Actor Martha Kathryn Smith plays Syd, a character who describes herself as basically happy but who sometimes has crippling panic attacks.

“I hope somewhere in the audience there is someone who’s like a baby me. I hope 16 year-old Martha is sitting in the audience and she hears this and she goes to somebody and she addresses things earlier than I did when I was a teenager,” she said.

"Ghosted" is part of the Seattle Children’s Theatre’s Educational Theater Program, a collaboration with Kaiser Permanente. The program will bring the play to high schools around the state. It targets schools with many low-income students.

Each performance will be followed by an assembly where the actors, teachers and counselors, along with a facilitator, will help students explore the themes in the play.

“We open up a conversation where minds are opened, perhaps hearts are opened and students can maybe have each other’s back a little bit more,” said Scott Koh, Arts Based Learning Program Manager for the Seattle Children’s Theatre.

"Ghosted" premiers at the Seattle Children’s Theatre this Saturday and will be performed at 20 high schools around the state.

Kaiser Permanente plans to bring the play to audiences around the country later in the year.

More: Listen to reporter Deborah Wang talk more about this production on KUOW's The Record.

Deborah Wang is spending the year doing stories on teenagers and mental health as part of a Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship. If you have a story you would like to share with Deborah, please email youthmentalhealth@kuow.org.