Stage & Dance

New play explores the different ways we cope with trauma, assault

Courtney Waltermire plays Rachel in the production by Antagonist Productions.
Courtney Waltermire plays Rachel in the production by Antagonist Productions. Homestead Studios

When Caitlyn Waltermire, 24, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she put her UK English degree and years of theater training to work, penning a musical about her experience navigating the mental health landscape.

She even took her show, “One More Fine Day,” on the road, with the play snagging the “best ensemble” award in the 2017 New York City Midtown International Theater Festival.

Now, Waltermire is back with another production, “Little Bites,” produced by Antagonist Productions, opening this weekend at the Leeds Center for the Arts in Winchester.

Like its predecessor, “Little Bites” stems from conflicts in Waltermire’s personal life — in this case, the aftermath of trauma and assault. The play is about a young woman who relocates to a new city to start a new life but as she forges new connections —she meets a single father, a singer, a bartender and a widow — she grapples with how to do that as others contend with their own forms of loneliness.

“The seed is from personal experience with assault,” says Waltermire. “I started looking at the narratives that we have that address that and I couldn’t really find one that that rang true with my experience. So I started to wonder if I was the only one who responded this way.”

“By ‘this way’, I mean I didn’t get depressed or suicidal, I got almost chipper and became more of a people pleaser,” says Waltermire. “My behavior got very performative and I wondered ‘does anyone do this?’”

Waltermire says that the discovery of the spectrum of ways people cope with trauma helped her flesh out the play.

“It started with a very specific situation that happened to me, but then you either put it in your journal and it’s just for you or you have to start shaping it,” says Waltermire.

“It’s like how you keep dipping a candle into layers of wax. You’ve got to add the layers and change the shape and make it more universal in a way,” Waltermire says of her writing process.

“The seed is still there — that’s what you’re pulling from — but the characters and details and the story itself becomes completely new and hopefully something that can be understood and entertaining as well,” says Waltermire.

“I don’t see my demons as specific to me,” says Waltermire. “We share them. We just might not know.”

Waltermire says when Antagonist Productions asked to produce the play, she immediately thought of Taylor Schulz to direct.

Schulz, 25, is an actor, director, and co-founder of AfterCulture Theatre, and one of many young artists who, like Waltermire, are part of a growing trend of young folks who are choosing to stay or return to the Bluegrass to live and create.

“I was familiar with her directing,” says Waltermire. “I had seen several other things she had done and I knew it had to be her. She’s bold and sensitive at the same time. She’s very intuitive and she’s brilliant.”

Schulz says when she read Waltermire’s script, she immediately loved the play’s “gentleness and relatability”.

“It’s a story about a young woman trying to make good and find her feet, which anyone can relate to,” says Schulz. “The aftermath of her assault is just another hurdle for her, among many, as she searches for stability.”

Schulz says that she hopes the show will increase the audience’s empathy and understanding of mental health issues, including how its manifestations vary so wildly among survivors.

“I think it is key we remove any stigmas around mental health care,” says Schulz. “It will be one step of many to recover our humanity as a culture.”

Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.

If you go

‘Little Bites’

When: 8 p.m., March 23 - 25

Where: Leeds Center for the Arts, 37 N. Main St., Winchester

Tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for students. Are available at Leedscenter.org or at the door.

Call: 859-744-6437

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