PSAs featuring Wilson students to air nationally

Nate Belman and Elie Salem

A series of public service announcements (PSAs) featuring Wilson students will be aired on television around the nation in the coming months. The three PSAs were contracted by Boys Town, a counseling and support organization for youth, and focused on mental health issues and suicide.

A PSA is an advertisement meant to raise awareness for a cause, such as teen smoking videos.  

Boys Town contracted David Evans, a director of his own media company, who has experience with cause-oriented programming, to make the PSA.

Evans initially considered hiring Duke Ellington students as actors for the PSA but was convinced by a friend to work with Wilson instead. “So many things in this life are down to who you know, and I know Talia [Zitner]. And we were originally thinking, ‘Well, The Duke Ellington School Performing Arts School is a school of the arts,’” said Evans. “And Talia’s father Mark said, ‘Why go there? Wilson’s putting on this great performance of “Rent” and they’ve got an amazing theater operation and, you know, why don’t you try this?” So we did and we talked with Karen Harris. You know it was just a fantastic experience.’ 

Karen Harris, the producer of the musical, sent an email to students who had been in the musical about auditions taking place in the choir room. “We kind of just sat in a circle and talked about our own experiences with [depression] and things on that,” said Sammy Solomon, an actor in the production, on the audition process. “The auditions were about an hour.”

Three PSAs were created with Wilson students, each a combination of group discussions and short, personal clips. Each actor was compensated $200 for their work over one 16-hour weekend.

Unlike typical commercials or the musical, the discussion was mostly unscripted with a general direction from the production team. “We were given a premise to kind of build with and we were really encouraged to say, ‘I hope he’s okay. I know I have felt, like ‘blank,’” said Solomon. “And then there was another day of filming for a smaller shoot which was less of a premise and more like personal experience—where we were portraying personal experiences, even if they weren’t actually our own.”  

While the goal of the PSA was to address suicide and mental health issues, Evans approached the topic gently. “We wanted to [do it] in a way that didn’t say suicide directly even though suicide might have been one of the end results we’re trying to curb,” said Evans. “We just wanted to attract as many people to the fact that there were people like them with the same sort of issues and people that can help them sort through them and give them a resource for that.”

Evans expects the PSAs to be aired soon, and could continue to circulate on television indefinitely. “They should start rolling out next month. Then again it’s not a timeslot so [it’s] dependent. Everybody pitches their PSA to the station managers in January and then they get out later in the year and could stay on the air for years and years,” Evans said.