JANESVILLE—Any time Jim Lyke crafts a new production, the local playwright conducts plenty of research.
His most recent play topic narrowed after he caught himself becoming emotional while reading a story about suicide.
Lyke’s play “When I Go” will feature the impact suicide has on people affected by the national epidemic. Shows run Thursday-Sunday, Aug. 22-25, at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.
The performance will look at the toll taken on families and friends after one character succeeds in taking his or her life, and at another character’s recovery and life after his or her suicide attempt.
From 2008-17, suicide rates in Wisconsin were higher than the national average in every year but 2012, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“Art really succeeds when it stimulates thought and conversation, and I hope that’s what this will do,” Lyke said.
The play is part two of a three-year grant from the Janesville Foundation, which produces a series of plays based on community issues local nonprofits are working to fix. Last year’s play, “There’s No Place,” also penned by Lyke, focused on homelessness.
For “When I Go,” Lyke worked with Rock County Crisis Intervention officials to get an inside look at the warning signs and effects of suicide. The experience influenced his play.
“One of the things that stuck with me was that sometimes the signs are obvious, but people miss them,” he said. “My hope for this is that people will recognize when someone is struggling and not ignore it and recognize that they might need help.”
JPAC Executive Director Nate Burkart is directing the play. While portraying such a serious topic can be difficult, he hopes to bring a very real feeling of understanding to the performance.
“It covers a lot of difficult themes, and there are some people that go through a lot of emotions after they lose someone to suicide,” he said. “We want to make sure those people feel like we captured that well and accurately.”
Lyke tried to make the situations in the play as realistic as possible, he said. The writer said he spent months working to make the performance and character interactions accurate.
Both Lyke and Burkart said it is important the play features signs of hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. Those in attendance will likely be affected by the play regardless of past experience with suicide, they said.
“I think that somebody should come and see this because it will either help them connect with people they’ve never met, or it will give them a different opinion on it (suicide),” Burkart said. “And if someone is dealing with this, it creates a platform for them to have a safe place for conversation about it.”
“I just hope that it’s a learning experience for people,” he said. “I think we’re presenting a good, quality show for everyone.”