We had the good fortune of connecting with Kelly O’Malley and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kelly, any advice for those thinking about whether to keep going or to give up?
I love this question. As a person who struggles with depression, I often consider the possible futility of what I’m doing. Is it worth it? Is it enough? What impact is my organization actually having? I think in these moments of doubt it’s important to step away from the overwhelming big picture and reflect on smaller individual moments of success. I run a non-profit that uses the arts for suicide prevention. And one of the central truths surrounding this cause is its inevitable imperfection. We can never fully prevent suicide. Strategies can be spread; community can be fostered; but certain choices will forever lie beyond our control. Still, the fact remains: while we cannot prevent all suicide, we absolutely can reduce its frequency. And doing so requires us to forge ahead, not ignoring the stakes but concentrating more on little victories… When an audience member who was struggling stays after a show and talks about their experience. When we hear that a “friend of a friend” heard our message, asked for help and ended up working their way through a crisis. When an Instagram follower reaches out to thank us for our self-care reminders and check-ins. These are the signs we use to stay on target and keep the faith. It’s not about quantifying exact results; it’s about believing in the miraculous ripple effects of human kindness.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
A Light in Dark Places is a non-profit using the arts to bring understanding, resources and hope to those affected by suicide. It started as a play series during National Suicide Prevention Week, meant to raise awareness as well as funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Four years later, we’ve since expanded to include one-night-only events – Songs for Hope (cabaret) and Moving into the Light (dance). All shows are geared towards opening healthy discussion, building community and tearing down the stigma that so often surrounds mental health. Producing these events, seeing people connect and be seen, has been an absolute honor. It’s humbling to see hundreds of people a year come together to support a cause I hold so dear. My biggest challenge has been personal. Leading an organization like this requires me to brush up against my trauma on an almost daily basis. I am still very much healing from my dad’s suicide, and at times desperately need a break from the memory and the grief. Running A Light makes returning to certain “Dark Places” inevitable, which keeps me from tending to those parts of me that need to step away. But some of that comes from my own tendencies toward perfectionism and stubbornness. And I’m learning to ask for help. I’m getting much better at trusting and delegating. This not only allows me to take better care of my own mental health but also keeps the organization growing on a path of ever-expanding reach. In this way, my biggest challenge has also been my most important lesson: it’s the captain’s burden to steer the ship, but that ship is much larger than any one individual. A Light in Dark Places was formed to harness the transformative power of art, creating a safe space to acknowledge one of humanity’s darkest moments and find the strength to overcome it together. It’s a necessarily imperfect antidote to our many mental health ills. But it’s an attempt with a lot of heart. When you come to our events, you might cry, but you’ll also laugh; and, most importantly, you won’t be experiencing it alone. “May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
I would definitely show them some of the longtime landmarks of the city like The Dresden and Boardners. Maybe get a martini at Musso & Frank’s. I’d also take them to some of my favorite newer spots – Tabula Rasa, Forman’s, Sushi Yuzu and Messhall. For outdoor things, we’d go to The Palisades for the Los Liones hike and of course, to Griffith for the observatory. For entertainment, I’d take them to an outdoor movie screening, like Cinespia, as well as check out local theater and burlesque – Cherry Poppins and Toil & Trouble are two favorite troupes.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
As most of our work is about collaboration and community, there are so many people to whom I could dedicate this shoutout. I spoke about some of them at length in our previous interview, but I’d like to reemphasize Bruce Katzman and Salim Aliaga. Both have worked with me since the beginning and continue to be integral in keeping A Light on mission. Then there is my sister, Kristina O’Malley. She helps me design our events’ aesthetic, and (along with Lawrence Mann, TopAchievers) made it possible to bring our play series to Dallas last year by taking on the responsibility of Associate Producer. Her belief in me and A Light warms my heart and encourages me to keep moving forward. Also, my boyfriend, Devon Schwartz, has been a source of constant support. We met when he directed one of A Light’s first plays, and I’ve roped him into directing and performing several times since. Devon’s patience and care as he helps me talk through every aspect of the business (including other parts of this interview) has been invaluable to me and this company. Others who deserve a shoutout: Ana Roza Cimperman, Alex Aves, Amber Van Parys, Matt Fuller, Rick Peters, Blake Lewis, Alex Steele, John Jack Rodgers and the Stella Adler Academy of Acting & Theater – LA. And of course, there are our donors, who enable us to continue all our efforts.
Evan Donner, Brandon LaJoie, Julio Vargas, Jordan Kirschner, Taylor Brielle