Off the Map studio 200

Libby Eggert, Staffer

Surrounded by audience members, wife Arlene Groden, portrayed by Eleanor Babwin, bangs angrily against the doors, her screams echoing throughout Studio 200. 

It’s the first time anyone has talked louder than voice level in the 90-minute run of the play, “Off the Map,” and the audience all lean away, shocked by the volume. In the intimate theater, every sound and detail of the tone, set, and constumes contribute to the tone to create a safe and healing space for the show’s serious conversation about mental health. 

Directed by senior Meenah Harbaugh, “Off the Map” follows a young woman reflecting on the summer her dad was depressed. Between flashbacks and monologues, Bo Groden explains how mental health impacted and transformed her family. Her family, in debt with federal taxes, embraces the many changes summer brings them, including an IRS auditor who moves in and helps open a dialogue by talking about his own depression. 

Harbaugh, who has acted and served on almost every production staff position at OPRF, was selected after submitting her resume, philosophy on theater, and proposal for shows, along with three other student directors (one per quarter). 

Although she was picked, neither of the plays she suggested were; her studio advisor Ixtla Arceo-Witzl and Linda Burns helped her discover Off the Map.

“Off the Map” resonated with Harbaugh, as the main character “connects with the audience on both a physical and emotional level as she herself is healing and taking us along this healing journey with her.” 

Off stage, Harbaugh has seen how theater can change the lives of the people involved. Last year, she was a student leader for OPRF’s adapted theater class, and worked with students with special needs. The class gave kids a space to heal and express themselves, the same way the character in “Off the Map” does. 

She says the class showed her how she can help others use theater to express emotions and “inspired me to continue this work for the rest of my life,” Harbaugh plans to major in Special Education, with a double minor in Spanish and Theater. 

Her show’s success came from the family-like dedication of her production staff, who gave her a supportive team to depend on. Aniya Payton, assistant stage manager, has acted on OPRF shows such as “Hairspray,” had never worked behind the scenes before. But working with a student director gave the show team a unique opportunity to work together to “create something out of nothing,” Payton said.

Directing gave Harbaugh the responsibility and agency she needed to build a healing space for Bo and her family. Between the props, the sets, the lighting, and the acting, Harbaugh had a lot of details to piece together, but “once everything came together, it was magical.”