Taking the “Driver’s Seat” on Mental Health Issues Now On Stage at Theatre 68 in NoHo – Interview with Ellie Brelis

Spread the love

Four-time award winner of the 2022 New York FRIGID Festival, including the Audience Choice Award, DRIVER’S SEAT is now running in Los Angeles at the newly renovated Theatre 68 Arts Complex in NoHo. This story captures the triumphant journey of a young girl navigating OCD and a mental health crisis. Learning how to drive should be a cinch, right?

The writer explained that “after being hospitalized, I scoured everything online and in TV and film, looking for someone else’s experience with OCD. There was nothing that mirrored my experience of living with this disorder or receiving intensive care, that rang true to me. So, I started writing DRIVER’S SEAT in July 2020. The play has evolved over the past two years, but the story remains the same: taking agency over one’s life and discovering humor in the dark moments.” Brelis said that she created this piece because “exploring the humor in and sharing my lived experience will hopefully widen the scope of how people view OCD and normalize treatment for mental health emergencies.” 

Connecting with DRIVER’S SEAT writer/performer Ellie Brelis was both enlightening and inspiring in learning how this project came about:

Ellie Brelis – Photo by Jenny Graham

When were you diagnosed and treated for depression and OCD? What are your routines for stabilizing?

I was officially diagnosed when I was in third grade. I used to feel a sense of loss because I was diagnosed at such a young age, like I never got the chance to live a life free from OCD. Since then, I have realized that a diagnosis, while painful, can also be a blessing because it allowed me the opportunity to learn how to live with OCD from an early age. It definitely wasn’t easy, and I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I’m now grateful to have always known this part of myself for better or worse. 

My stabilizing routines change and evolve as I grow and develop. I have a great toolbox filled with techniques for when I am feeling distressed, and also some skills to help prevent me from getting to a distressing place. Having a creative outlet, surrounding myself with people I love, moving daily, keeping a structure and routine, taking my meds, going to therapy and using mindfulness exercises, are all things I try to incorporate into my life. Obviously, some days I am better at this than others.  

Ellie Brelis – Photo by Jenny Graham

What was the most challenging aspect of creating Driver’s Seat and having it realized on stage in Los Angeles?

I think the biggest challenge was trying to evolve and develop the show. To move it into its next phase of life, without losing what it truly is at its core. It’s also been challenging to discuss intensive treatment because it can be a very controversial subject. Many psychiatric facilities have caused a lot of pain, trauma, and damage to many people and I would never want my story to overshadow the dark history of mental health care. I don’t want to change the conversation surrounding mental health, I just want to add to it in the hopes of widening the scope of how it is viewed, and make it more three dimensional. 

Did you always know that you were a writer/actor?

Yes, and no. I fell in love with acting and making up stories in elementary school. I’ve always struggled with academics so the term “writer” felt like a title that I wasn’t worthy of for a very long time. I think what it really comes down to in the end is that I love stories. I love hearing stories, sharing stories, collaborating, and creating new stories. So, if I can keep making stories, or work with people to help share their stories, I’ll be happy. 

Ellie Bellis – Photo by Jenny Graham

Do you have plans for Driver’s Seat beyond this run?

I plan to continue touring the show and hopefully take it to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with the ultimate goal of adapting this story for the screen. 

“DRIVER’S SEAT” runs 8 pm Fridays and Saturdays, 3 pm Sundays through November 20, 2022. Theatre 68 Arts Complex is located at 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Run time is approximately 60 minutes. Ample street parking. Tickets: $25: www.Onstage411.com/DriversSeat


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.