Mia Raye Smith Performs One Woman Play at Fordham College at Rose Hill


Keith MacDonald

Mia Raye Smith performed her one woman play at Fordham College at Rose Hill on April 7 (PHOTO COURTESY OF MIA RAYE SMITH)


On Friday, April 7 in the McGinley Center at Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH), actor Mia Raye Smith put on a performance of her own creation called “I Am Hope”. In this one woman play Mia plays herself and 19 other characters, guiding the audience through her life as she develops an anxiety disorder. As Smith follows the path of her life from her turbulent childhood and adolescence into adulthood, she brings the audience to a better understanding of how anxiety comes to be and the effect it has upon those who have it.

The most impressive part of Smith’s performance was the fact that it flowed through one single actor. Her ability to transition from character to character was so well done that this performance felt no different from watching a performance executed with several actors. And every character that Smith played was unique in their own way, demonstrating her talent as a performer. She played the roles of her mother, father, grandmother, best friend in high school, and many others, all of whom had an impact on her life. Not only was it an impressive choice of hers to play several roles, but it relates to the experience of anyone who lives with mental illness—in which they could be someone completely different depending on their circumstances from day to day.

At the beginning of the performance, Smith explained her complicated relationship with her neglectful mother. As the performance continued, the conflicts in her life began to evolve as she learned to deal with her mother’s lifestyle, falls into peer pressure at school, moves to New York City, and has to support herself with a difficult job. The moment she realized that her anxiety was real was when she had her first panic attack. This is the moment that she decided to seek help for her problem and realized that her anxiety had always been affecting her. As early as her youth, Smith had to deal with the constant stress of coping with her situation and meeting the expectations that those around her had of her. This constant and wavering stress had a psychological effect upon her; over the years it developed into an anxiety disorder.

Smith’s “I Am Hope” is a very relevant piece in the discussion around mental illness on college campuses. A survey done by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that 42.1% of college students stated anxiety as a their main concern in university. The constant stress brought on by exams, deadlines, presentations, work outside of school and future careers could create an anxiety disorder in students. It can be even worse for those who entered college with a pre-existing anxiety disorder. Stress is a natural response that we all have when we are faced with burdensome responsibilities and difficult choices, but anxiety is different from ordinary stress. In its worst form, anxiety presents itself in a panic attack. As Smith depicted in her performance, an anxiety attack is completely debilitating to the person experiencing it. When her doctor informs her that she had experienced a panic attack, she refuses to believe her. As Smith and several other people who suffer from panic attacks can attest to, it ranges from feeling as though you are about to die to a heart attack. Panic attacks are far too familiar for many students in college.

The most important message from Smith’s performance is that if you are living with anxiety, you are not alone. The purpose of this show for Smith is to bring awareness and understanding of anxiety to her audience. By the end of “I Am Hope” Smith finds the help that she needs with the proper therapist. In the discussion after the show, Smith told the audience that anxiety needs attention and that it cannot just be ignored. From her own experience she had to be proactive in finding a therapist that was right for her, improving her own life situation and trying many different things until she found the right solution. This is an important lesson for anyone living with anxiety to learn, always be active in finding the best solutions for yourself.

For students at Fordham struggling with anxiety, there are a variety of resources available to you on campus. The Office of Psychological Services offers free, on-campus counselors who can meet with you to discuss any of the problems you may be facing. If anxiety is affecting the grades in any of your classes then you can have accommodations made for you at the office’s request. There is also the BeWell Club on the Lincoln Center campus, which is a great opportunity for anyone looking to find stress relief and a sense of community with others. Another club that might be helpful is the Yoga Club. Take advantage of these opportunities and help other people who are dealing with mental illness discover them too.

The discussion that “I Am Hope” brings to the table is much needed if academia is to become a more hospitable place for students with anxiety or any other mental illness. In order to tackle the stigma around mental illness, we have to understand the experiences of those who are living with it. Smith hopes to perform her one woman play on other campuses to spread awareness and initiate dialogue around the issue. To contact Smith, her email is [email protected].