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Matthew Hagen performs in "The Sound of Silence"

Matthew Hagen performs in “The Sound of Silence” on Friday at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Billings.

An overflow crowd at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts was treated to three short, powerful plays Friday night performed and written by youth dealing honestly and thoughtfully with the scourge of youth suicide.

Let’s Talk Billings showcased the trio of plays for a crowd of more than 160 people: “The Sound of Silence,” with a cast of six; “The Tears that Escape,” performed by an eight-member cast; and “Hear Me, Help Me,” a play about Native American culture performed by five youth.

“The Sound of Silence” premiered in November and explored alienation and loneliness among youth bearing signs labeling themselves: Freak, Brat, Jock, Burnout, Theater Geek and Bible Thumper. Students ended the show with a hopeful song, “No One is Alone,” singing part of the song from the aisles.

“The Tears that Escape” opened with an actor admitting she has an odd collection — a box full of scars (actually makeup) which cast members applied to their faces. “I don’t like collecting all that happy crap,” she said. “I collect what matches me.”

In one scene, a character berates and shoves another. “What I did to that kid over there,” the bully told the audience, “is nothing compared to what I get at home.”

The play’s climax has one character prepared to end his life, but with a version of “Hey Jude” as the musical selection, the group uses kindness, hugs and even a friendly noogie to save his life.

“If it were easy to talk about teen depression and suicide,” said the event’s master of ceremonies David Otey, “there wouldn’t be events like the one tonight.”

“Hear Me, Help Me” opened and closed with Native American poetry and imagery, with students synchronizing hand motions while suggesting that we all walk with beauty within us, before us, behind us, above us, below us — and all around us.

“We should take action on suicide as youth — maybe a simple smile or hello,” one character said. “Let us get out of our comfort zones.” All five actors shouted the theme of the evening together to end their play: “Let’s talk, Billings!”

And audience members did just that, with the help of five mental health professionals who answered questions during a town hall held after the performances.

“Compassion is the ability to recognize suffering in others and the ability to relieve that suffering in others,” said Terry Smith, one of the five providers. “What you saw tonight was heartfelt.”

Tayeb Al-Hafez, a medical doctor from Miles City who founded the Global Health Equity Foundation, a sponsor of Let’s Talk Billings along with the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, thanked the performers “for putting yourselves out there. (Let’s Talk Billings) is about giving people voice who have been oppressed by bullying” and other serious problems. “I am proud and humbled by your performances.”

Patrick Wilson, who directed “The Tears that Escape,” told the audience that Friday’s event was “a medium of transformation — not only for you, but for these performers as well.”

Jane Lind, the co-director of “Hear Me, Help Me,” said the cast honored their elders by creating and performing the drama.

“The script was based on letters that students wrote, and they’re very real,” she said.

The Let’s Talk Billings website,, went live Friday. The website includes resources for teens, family members and caregivers.



City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.