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Glance inside the mind of artist Daniel Callahan in ‘Come On In – Live’

Mandile Mpofu
Glance inside the mind of artist Daniel Callahan in ‘Come On In – Live’
In his autobiographical one-man show, multidisciplinary artist Daniel Callahan explores themes of mental health, identity and coming of age. COURTESY PHOTO

A dusty Sony boombox. A pile of books. An easel. A brown coat rack. A stack of cassette tapes. These are the contents of multidisciplinary artist Daniel Callahan’s mind. Or, at least, the way he will soon visualize them on stage.

Years ago, while a graduate student at Emerson College, Callahan produced a fictional film about an artist who is having a mental breakdown and begins hearing voices that lead him to a mansion. The mansion, he discovers, is his mind, and he is trapped in it. The film, “Come On In,” is based on Callahan’s own state as an “avid thinker.”

“I spend a lot of time inside my head,” he said. “At first, it was a very incredible place where I felt like I could be creative and there [were] no limits to that creativity, and I could get lost in that. But also, in my adult life, I found that it can be a very challenging place, and at a certain period of my life, it felt like a constraining place.”

Callahan said he began wondering what his mind would look like as a physical space and how he could bring other people into it. The result was “Come On In,” the fictionalized psychological thriller film. Now, the artist is offering audiences the chance to take a peek into a more honest version of his mind through “Come On In – Live,” an autobiographical one-man show exploring themes of mental health, identity and coming of age.

Growing up, Callahan was a shy kid who struggled with verbal communication. But a love of drawing, inspired by his dad’s sketches, brought Callahan out of his shell and allowed him to craft worlds of his own. Eventually, art kept him grounded through his itinerant childhood as his family moved among apartments and cities.

This peripatetic nature is the show’s throughline, stringing together the various makings of Callahan’s mind. In “Come On In – Live,” he will take spectators through three spaces key to his coming of age: church, school and hip-hop. Using a mix of digital projections, drawing, spoken word, poetry, rap and music, Callahan will present what it looks like to contend with being a Black boy, then man, navigating those spaces.

Director Iona Morris Jackson COURTESY PHOTO

While Callahan wrote and will star in “Come On In – Live,” bringing the show to life alongside him is a team that includes award-nominated director Iona Morris Jackson, who has worked on shows such as “Black-ish.” Morris Jackson said she likes to work on projects that inspire audiences or “give them something to think about” and felt “Come On In – Live” did exactly that.

“When you see Daniel Callahan on that stage … just remember that he’s a multimedia artist that started with the kernel of an idea. He hadn’t done a lot of acting,” she said. “And when you see that show, it will blow you away … in terms of when you put your mind to something, when you follow your passion, when you go through and work through your fears, and you are courageous, it is possible for you, too.”

Open to those 16 and older, “Come On In – Live” will run March 28-30 at the Strand Theatre. By sharing his personal experiences, Callahan said, he aims to offer a moment of universal reflection, particularly around the importance of opening up as a man, and a Black man at that.

“I’m hoping that through the show, I can start to give an example for folks coming up — young men, young boys coming up,” he said, “to not only be vulnerable but to be to be able to speak about the things that challenge you and to be able to lean on one’s community.”

arts, Come On In – Live, Daniel Callahan, theatre