PITTSBURG — The Pittsburg High School Repertory Theatre is tackling mental illness with a one-of-a-kind performance.

For the 10th anniversary of their social issues play, PHS repertory theatre students will tackle topics like anxiety, depression and self-harm with “Drowning in Quicksand.” According to Director Greg Shaw, the group hopes to shine a light on these issues as well as start a conversation about the stigma surrounding them.

“We don’t have the solutions,” Shaw said. “We simply want to demystify these issues and show that it is okay to talk about it if you are feeling this way, whether that’s students talking to parents or counselors, or parents having a conversation with their child.”

“Drowning in Quicksand” will also be a world premiere. For the last eight years, PHS repertory theatre has worked with Playwright Debbie Lamedman to create a completely original play.

The rep theatre class conducts a survey each year after its social issues play to find out what topics other students would like to see on stage. They do research and take the top ideas and information to Lamedman, who does her own research and provides a rough draft at the beginning of the spring semester.

“The nice thing is our students get to see the writing process,” Shaw said. “They workshop the rough draft and make send back edits to Debbie to make it as real as possible, but they also get to see how much effort goes into the writing, as well as the performance.”

Over the past 10 years Shaw’s class has performed plays focused on school violence, prescription drug abuse and bullying. “Drowning in Quicksand” covers multiple topics, but Shaw said the class thought it was best to put them together.

“Instead of trying to tackle anxiety, depression and self-harm separately, we wanted to start a conversation about all of them,” Shaw said. “We think they are three topics that dovetail together.”

The main story of “Drowning” follows Mia — a high school student struggling with depression and perfectionism. Mia is played by sophomore Gracie Terry — her first time playing a lead role.

“It’s very exciting,” Terry said. “But it has been hard at times, putting yourself in the position of someone who is considering suicide.

“People experience depression in so many ways, I just want to portray the role realistically and maybe reach someone so they will find help.”

Sophomore Amanda Bourbina, who plays The Cutter agreed that realism is her main goal.

“It’s difficult at times because people deal with self-harm on a daily basis in real life,” Bourbina said. “I don’t want it to seem fake. I want it to be as real as possible so people can better understand it.”

The social issues play will have one public performance at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The performance is free and takes place at Memorial Auditorium. After the performance, the students will conduct a talk-back session, answering audience questions about the issues.

After Wednesday’s show, the students will perform for area schools. Shaw said there is still time if schools would like to schedule a showing. Any interested schools can email him at gshaw@usd250.org.

— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at choener@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.