By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear many flaws in American society, particularly the struggles many of us have with mental health. Whether for lack of resources or societal attitudes, it’s clear that taking care of our brains is something we need to prioritize and talk about more.
To that end, folkLAB, an interdisciplinary network of Pittsburgh artists, will present “Sadapalooza,” an evening of spoken word poetry and stand-up comedy celebrating sadness and mental health.
folkLAB works to create content across artistic disciplines within the Pittsburgh arts community and every piece they do has a performance element. This emphasis on live presentation meant the pandemic ground their work to a halt.
Sadapalooza Live stream March 6 from 7 to 9 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit folklab.net
“Sadapalooza came to be because folkLAB had a season that never was in 2020,” said Abigail Lis-Perlis, producing artistic director for folkLAB.
Lis-Perlis had an idea for folkLAB content in 2020, a program called “Mad” that would focus on mental health. While that initial idea was put on hold during the pandemic, Lis-Perlis found a way to bring that concept to a virtual setting when she heard about a new idea from her friend and collaborator, Rachel Greene, who will also be hosting the event.
“She had told me about an event that she had done in Olympia, Washington with a poetry collective there, which was an annual version of Sadapalooza,” said Lis-Perlis.
Every year, the collective would meet in January, at the peak of Pacific Northwest seasonal depression, and present a house show of poets and comedians to create a silly, lighthearted event with a focus on mental health struggles.
“When she told me about this, we both thought this seemed like something that would translate well to a virtual environment, and it fits this theme that folkLAB really wanted to explore in 2020,” said Lis-Perlis.
In addition to the theme, the concept of Sadapalooza also meshed well with folkLAB’s collective principles, which work to foster collaboration with artists across mediums.
“It gives artists a chance to work interdisciplinarily, with folks they may not have thought to collaborate with before,” said Lis-Perlis. “For this show, we’re really excited to cross-pollinate the poet community and the stand-up comedy community.
There will be eight featured performances, with four poets and five comedians performing 10-minute sets, along with guest poets who will open and close the event. The performers have been given wide leeway with the topics they will base their acts around, but mental health and the struggles of the pandemic will be common themes.
“For this version, we’ve really invited poets to explore absurdity and humor if they wish, and we’ve invited comedians to get personal and explore darker things than they usually would,” said Lis-Perlis.
Tickets for the event will be pay-as-you-wish, and all the proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Inside Our Minds, “a peer-controlled, radical mental health organization that works to elevate the voices of people with lived experience of mental illness, madness, and other conceptualizations of mental health,” according to their mission statement.
“They do advocacy, they do mental healthcare, and they do education programs,” said Lis-Perlis. “They do the utmost work and care to make sure it’s accessible and free to everyone.”
Above all, Lis-Perlis wants to create a space where that validates the struggles so many of us have gone through mentally this past year, but that also allows people to find humor and comfort in the knowledge that their struggles are incredibly shared.
“We want people at home to feel that space, that they can feel okay about not being okay, and that might be because of seasonal depression, something going on in their life, or all the things we’ve been going through with the pandemic,” said Lis-Perlis. “We want to offer them that it’s okay to go through that and also laugh, and also find joy.”