In Mania/Gift Shelby-Allison Hibbs Explores Bipolar Disorder's Relationship with Creativity

Categories: Theater

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Scott Mitchell
Shelby-Allison Hibbs outside the Bath House Cultural Center.

Standing outside the light brick structure of the Bath House Cultural Center that lies nuzzled against one of the less-trodden sides of White Rock Lake, Shelby-Allison Hibbs happily admits that the artistic hub has been like a second home to her.

Hibbs, a theatre director who obtained her MFA from Baylor University and later went to the New York and New Jersey area to hone her craft, only arrived in Dallas September of last year. Ever since, the Bath House has functioned as a sort of home base for her. She's directed several plays there, the most recent of which, Mania/Gift, is part of the Festival of Independent Theatres, which opens Friday and runs through August 12.

See Also: A Handy Guide to the Festival of Independent Theatres

For Hibbs, Mania/Gift is an extremely personal undertaking as well as a step forward in her career. The story is based on a real life friend who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

It was during her undergrad years that the two met. "She was this really outgoing person," Hibbs' remembers, "Everything was possible with her." So, when Hibbs began looking for apartments in the Dallas area, she called up her bubbly bestie from college.
But it had been almost a year since Hibbs had last seen her friend. "When I saw her...she was very realistic--almost a little sad," Hibbs recalls. "I couldn't really pinpoint what was going on with her."

Hibbs later found out that her friend had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few months earlier. The combination of hospital visits, therapy sessions and a stream of medication left the friend having difficulty with prolonged conversation. The bubbly personality was all but gone, and suddenly Hibbs, who will describe herself as an introvert, was left to take the extrovert role.

"I thought, 'Wow, you're like completely changed," Hibbs says. Her inspiring, outgoing friend had become the opposite of Hibbs' fond memories.

It was because of this experience that, when Hibbs moved to Dallas, she asked her friend if she could write her story. This story eventually developed into Mania/Gift.

The play itself is based only slightly off of her friend's experiences. It follows a budding young writer, Julia, at her foray into fantasy writing. But as more time goes on, Julia finds that her creative writing is linked to the manic ups and downs of bipolar disorder.

The disorder gets so serious that Julia goes into a psychotic episode and begins hearing voices. "The voice is a question in the play," Hibbs says. "One, where does it come from and what is it doing here? Which I don't want to give away quite yet."

Hibbs own interest in the play stems heavily from the success that can often be found in mania. The focus, the drive and the creativity can make bipolar individuals seem successful to outsiders. "People who are manic actually accomplish a lot," Hibbs says. "They are exuberant and people who have extreme positive feelings."

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Whitney Holotik and Cara L. Reid in Mania/Gift

Because of the duality of the disorder, Hibbs took a minimalistic approach to the play. The play only has two actresses on stage for the entire length of the show-- Cara L. Reid plays Julia, while Whitney Holotik plays a second, ambiguous character. "You don't really know who she is," Hibbs says of Holotik's character. "She's introduced as many things. She's left a mystery for most of the play."

With the minimal cast and the 50-minute time constraint of the festival, Hibbs admits that character and plot development were difficult to approach. "It started out being much, much longer than it is," Hibbs says, " But in order to make it fit...you have to abstract the story a little bit to get an arc of action going."

Yet at its very core, the play was made because of, if not for, Hibbs' college friend. Hibbs admits that she doesn't know whether the friend will see the final product. "I haven't seen her in a while," Hibbs says, her voice growing slightly somber. "I'm not sure she's going to come to this. We'll find out."

Mania/Gift has six different iterations during the FIT festival: 8 p.m. Saturday July 12, 5 p.m. Sunday July 13, 8 p.m. Thursday July 17, 2 p.m. Sunday July 20, 8 p.m. Friday July 25 and 5 p.m. Saturday August 2. FIT is being held at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E Lawther Drive.

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