In his own words: With his personal connection, this teacher’s theater project combats depression and suicide

Jacob D. Sherwood, known to Fresno-area theater audiences for his work as a director at the Woodward Shakespeare Festival and acting at Fresno State, is close to earning a Master of Arts in Teaching Fine Arts (MAT-FA) degree from the University of Utah. His final project for that degree sounds remarkable. Titled “Control of Me,” it is a collection of three short scenes offering dramatic representations of the struggles and emotional challenges dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Pictured above: Jacob D. Sherwood teaching a class.

The project will be shown on Zoom at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27. All are welcome. Live talkback sessions and discussion will be held after each scene.

Sherwood, who teaches English Language Arts at Mount Whitney High School in Visalia, has an intense personal connection to the material. It’s so powerful that I feel it’s best if he explains it in his own words:

Each scene is about the different aspects of how depression can feel.

In the first scene, we see depression being an obnoxious friend who makes us want to be alone at a social gathering by encouraging us to risk embarrassment. The second scene shows depression whispering in your ear, making you paranoid until you lash out at someone close to you. The final and most troubling scene depicts physically what depression feels like emotionally. These scenes will include foul language, yelling, name calling, and depictions of verbal, physical, and sexual assault.


I wrote these scenes, part of a larger play I one day hope to see produced, in order to deal with my own history of depression and suicide. I first thought about killing myself around the fifth/sixth grade. By the end of sixth grade not only was I convinced the world would be better off without me, but that no one would even notice or care if I simply vanished.

In seventh and eighth grade I began to daydream about various ways I could die, and the logistics of pulling them off. I began to dream of my suicide every time I closed my eyes.

In high school it began to get worse, as more often than not I would be daydreaming in class about killing myself instead of paying attention. This led to grades dropping and a desire to kill myself even more. I would go days without sleep as I either cried all night or simply stared into the darkness. Sometimes I would hold a knife in my hand, blade against my neck, and wonder if I would have the strength to finish if I started. I would feel my foot lift off the brake so my car would go toward the train and I couldn’t seem to make it go back down. I had a slight fear of heights because if I didn’t grip the railing with all my strength, I would find my body climbing over it without me even thinking about it.

It was Music and Theatre that saved my life. Singing in the school choirs, playing on the drumline, performing in the plays and musicals. These things gave me joy like no other and allowed me to express myself without needing to harm myself. While I often describe my Junior year of high school as my darkest period, my Senior year was my happiest. Through my undergrad in studying theatre I have become even better and would describe my life now as happy and being full of light and love.

My experience with suicide and depression is one of the main reasons I wanted to be a teacher. I had a teacher in high school, my choir teacher, who made a difference and gave me the hope I needed to keep fighting just by being himself. Just by doing his job, he made me feel value for myself as I saw my talent in the arts begin to grow. I hope to be a similar pillar of strength to my students, though I’d prefer they not need it.

As a teacher, however, I have found it difficult to discuss suicide with administration, parents, and students. Many don’t want to hear it and don’t want to admit there is a problem. There is still a lot of negative stigma toward those who feel depression and those who have contemplated suicide. Open communication can fix many things but it takes someone to start that conversation. I hope to do that with these scenes.

“Control of Me” will be played on Zoom at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27. Afterward, Sherwood plans to post the production on YouTube. Here are the Zoom details:

Meeting ID: 789 5971 0068
Passcode: Hope

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) is available 24 hours a day in English and Spanish.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (1)

  • Tina Unti

    Checked in here to learn about Jacob Sherwood, drama teacher at Madera South High School and director of the Madera Theatre Project’s inaugural production BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, saw your post of MTP and thought I would comment. Sherwood , cast and crew, have done a fantastic job bringing the story to life; the talent level is “ off the charts” and the production top rate. If this is any indication of what MTP will add to the Central Valley’s theatre scene long term I anxiously await their next production. Kudos to Madera and MTP!


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