Famed Broadway writer, director and composer Elizabeth Swados has struggled with depression her whole life. In My Depression (The Up and Down of It), she shares her experiences with this often-misunderstood condition to make a difficult and sometimes taboo topic more accessible and understandable. Based on Swados’ graphic memoir My Depression: A Picture Book, and featuring the voices of Sigourney Weaver (as Swados), Steve Buscemi, Fred Armisen and Dan Fogler.
Simultaneously heartfelt and entertaining, My Depression illuminates the symptoms, emotions and side effects of the disorder through witty animation, comedy and unique musical numbers. During “Suicide Mobile,” performed by Buscemi, Swados conveys the suicidal thoughts that can arise when an upbeat suicide van taunts her with the idea of ending it all. In “Doctor’s Techno Song,” Armisen portrays a pill bottle, singing and rapping about the science of depression.
Depression comes in different forms for different individuals. Swados explains, “A lot of people don’t really know much about it, but I think it could be helpful to learn what people go through.” Despite having a career, hobbies and people she loves, she can’t quite get rid of her “annoying friend, the cloud,” which has hovered overhead throughout her life.
Swados recounts how as a teenager, she fretted about things normal teenagers did, but at a more intense level, and those feelings followed her through college. Though she found joy in music, even that could not ward off her depression, which could be triggered by anything, from “the change in seasons, [an] overwhelming un-cleanable closet, a rejection letter…the loss of a friend or loved one, or sometimes nothing whatsoever.”
After years of struggle, Swados eventually sought professional help, learning from her therapist that severe depression is often hereditary. (Her mother was diagnosed with severe clinical depression.) Though initially wary of trying drugs, she admits, “It’s a lot like cooking. It took around three years of trying this and that until my doctor and I found something that really worked.” Still, even the right medicine doesn’t help all the time. Swados notes that it’s also “important to find a good therapist who can teach you how to cope and work through life’s surprises.”
My Depression (The Up and Down of It), shows how it’s possible to survive depression. There is a silver lining to the cloud, no matter how constant the presence. It is important to remember that no matter what surprises life throws at a person, with the right help, one can learn to cope and enjoy life.
Best known for her Broadway and international stage smash Runaways, Elizabeth Swados has composed, written and directed for more than 30 years. Her work has been performed all over the world, and has received five Tony Award nominations, three Obie Awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Swados’ other work includes the 2015 world premiere of The Nomad at the Flea Theater; the opening night oratorio at the Spoleto Festival, Spoleto, Italy 2014; the Brooklyn Academy of Music opera Missionaries, about the three church women and one lay person killed during the revolutionary war in El Salvador; Spider Operas at PS122; the revue Political Subversities; and the novel Walking the Dog, to be published in 2016.
She has written articles for the New York Times, Vogue and O, The Oprah Magazine. In addition to My Depression: A Picture Book, published in 2005 and republished by Seven Stories Press in 2014, her books include At Play: Teaching Teenagers Theater and three poetry books published By Hanging Loose Press.
Sharing directing and writing responsibilities with Swados on My Depression are Robert Marianetti and David Wachtenheim of W/M Animation, a New York-based animation company that has produced and directed award-winning work for Cartoon Network, Disney/ABC and Universal. W/M Animation was the primary production company for the “TV Funhouse” segment of “Saturday Night Live” for more than nine years, and also created the series Stroker and Hoop.
My Depression (The Up and Down of It) was directed by David Wachtenheim, Robert Marianetti and Elizabeth Swados; produced by Roz Lichter; producer, Josh Hetzler; screenplay, Robert Marianetti, David Wachtenheim and Elizabeth Swados; musical score, David Nelson and Elizabeth Swados. For HBO: supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.