It is almost impossible to turn on the television or flip through a magazine these days without seeing depictions of smiling, happy people finally enjoying life again -- thanks to the mood-altering pills they're taking.
Boulder-based performer and playwright Jennifer Berry has a major problem with such advertising.
In Big Pharma, a one-woman show premiering this week at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Berry skewers the way that pharmaceutical companies and the advertising industry market anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil.
"This is a show about the rise of the anti-depression-drug industry and the loss of my generation," says Berry. "I decided to do this project for very personal and political reasons. I noticed so many of my friends going on these anti-depressants at the same time that they started marketing them heavily on television."
Calling our contemporary culture "The Great Anti-Depression," Berry explores the impact that psycho-pharmaceutical drugs have on society in general, and Generation X specifically.
"My generation is the first generation that has been directly marketed to in this way. Prozac is now prescribed for everything from PMS to someone just having a bad day," she says. "We're the goodbye generation: Goodbye to small-town communities, neighborhoods and schools; goodbye to a lot of the things that kept us connected to one another."
"My point is that anti-depressants are being marketed directly to the people instead of through our doctors and psychiatrists," adds Berry, who has been working on the piece for over three years. "It has become far too easy to get mind-altering drugs. You don't market morphine; why should you market this?"
During her multimedia presentation, Berry uses videos of recent anti-depressant commercials and a slide show of her friends to drive home her point.
"It is certainly a very timely and relevant topic," says BMoCA associate curator Brandi Mathis. "Jennifer has done a lot of both intellectual and emotional delving into the subject, which makes it an interesting and provocative show."
"We were raised in the 1980s to say no to drugs, only to be told to ask your doctor and do drugs in the 1990s," continues Berry, who has authored seven other plays, including The Three Types of Sex, which opened at BMoCa in 2000. "I want to show images of what real women look like. I'm not trying to tell people whether it is right or wrong to go on anti-depressants, but I think that it does change people."
Berry will also employ the voices of twenty different characters to illustrate her take on the issue, focusing mainly on women, children and minorities, the three groups she feels are most directly targeted by these campaigns. "I take on everyone from an advertising executive to an artist to my grandmother to a homeless woman," she explains.
"It's a complex and nuanced subject that should raise questions and objections," says Mathis. "That's the beauty of seeing live art."
To that end, Berry will participate in a question-and-answer session with the audience following each Saturday-night performance of Big Pharma.
"I don't want to send the message that the people who take these drugs are wrong or bad," insists Berry. "I'm looking at this from a political, marketing and advertising standpoint."