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BWW Interview: Ben Platt & Courtney Platt Talk Music Therapy, MS in Harmony & Finding Joy

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Ben and Courtney have partnered with the American Music Therapy Association and Bristol Myers Squibb on MS IN HARMONY.

BWW Interview: Ben Platt & Courtney Platt Talk Music Therapy, MS in Harmony & Finding Joy

In celebration of World MS Day on May 30th, BroadwayWorld had the pleasure of speaking to Ben Platt and sister-in-law Courtney Platt, who is one of the nearly one million Americans living with the disease.

Ben and Courtney have partnered with the American Music Therapy Association and Bristol Myers Squibb on MS IN HARMONY, a first-of-its-kind initiative designed to help patients achieve harmony of the body and mind through music therapy.

To learn more about MS in Harmony, developed by the American Music Therapy Association and Bristol Myers Squibb, visit MSinHarmony.com or @MSinHarmony on Instagram.

Ben Platt is an award-winning actor, singer and songwriter, most well-known for his roles in the television show "The Politician," and Broadway's "Dear Evan Hansen." He also stars in the upcoming film adaptation of the latter, set to be released in theaters on September 24th.

Courtney Platt is a professional dancer living and thriving with relapsing multiple sclerosis. She was diagnosed in 2012 at the age of 23 after experiencing unsettling symptoms while on the Season 7 "So You Think You Can Dance" Tour.

Read the full interview with Ben and Courtney below!


I feel like in the past year we've all kind of had to re-evaluate our relationship to performance, live or otherwise, due to the pandemic. Of course, you have this other level of readjustment due to illness and everything that's meant to your family. What has the past year been like for you as creative artists, and just as members of a family?

Ben: That's a great question. You know, it's been challenging like it has for everyone else, I think. It's kind of forced all of us to reassess our priorities and take a look at what are the things that really matter deeply to us. It obviously has been - in terms of live performance and art - really heartbreaking. But, at the same time, for me, personally, it's forced me to just sort of find any of the craft that I could to make things. I got to write a whole album from my childhood bedroom via Zoom with my co-writers, and I got to go and shoot the "Dear Evan Hansen" film with lots of masks and separation. Even in the midst of all of the strangeness, I was gratefully able to channel that into some art.

And in terms of the family, I'm usually the one who lives in New York and everyone is here. I came home as soon as the pandemic started, and I've been in L.A. since. So, it's been a year of quality time I never imagined I would have. That's a byproduct of all of the sort of terrible things about it - that I got to spend a lot of time with the whole family.

Courtney: That was definitely the best part. It was a treat. Actually, I think my mother-in-law was in all her glory to have all of her kids under one roof. I feel like that hasn't happened in so long. It was such a treat for us to have Ben, and then Henry - the youngest Platt.

And I think for me, my son was born literally on the day of the shutdown. If you talk to everybody, their last hurrah was Joey's first birthday. For me, my husband Joey and I didn't skip a beat with our kid. We were able to be there for every milestone, and kind of just watch how he grew through the entire year. That's definitely been the best part in all of the craziness, for sure.

Can you tell me a little bit about your journey since your diagnosis?

Courtney: I was diagnosed in 2012, and I was on the So You Think You Can Dance tour, feeling my body having a breakdown. And it's been a crazy ride - from when I was first diagnosed to now. My neurologist found lesions on my brain and plaque on my spine, and the first thing I said to her was, like, "What does this mean for dancing?" And she said to me, "The best thing for you is to keep moving."

And so, that was exactly what I wanted to hear. I think when I was diagnosed, I was devastated, but I was happy to have a little clarity on what was actually taking place. I've worked closely with my neurologist, I have a great team, and I've been able to keep my symptoms at bay.

I'm so happy to be a part of the MS in Harmony initiative. I'm just blown away and really excited to get involved, and to learn more about it.

What has your work with MS in Harmony in support of World MS Day [May 30th] been like for you? Where have you gotten the most out of it?

Ben: For me, kind of the joy of it has been that it's a perfect storm of two things that I'm very passionate about - one being Courtney, my sister, and one being this idea that music is very powerful and has the ability in and of itself to change your emotional state and your mood and your body. And to see those things implemented specifically for MS in these modules, and to see that there are lessons that are cousins of things I do anyway in my own life - in terms of warming up, and breathing, and remembering things with mnemonic devices and little songs. All of the things that I find are meaningful separate from MS - to get to be part of implementing those for a loved one living with MS, and encourage people to do them all together, has definitely been a highlight on my end.

Courtney: Yeah! For me, I think - one, I was blown away when Ben said he wanted to get involved. I think my words were, "I can't wait to see you. I'm going to hug you so hard your eyeballs might pop out." That was amazing, and I think - because music's always been a part of my life, just to experience these modules in an organized way with board-certified music therapists, and to be given tools to manage some of my MS symptoms has been extremely helpful to me. And then I've gotten the opportunity to share it with others, whether they be caregivers or other individuals with MS. I'm happy to say it's been extremely helpful for them as well. It's for everybody. And that's also what I love about it so far.

How did music therapy come into your life?

Courtney: So, they asked me when I first got involved with the initiative. And, to be honest with you, I really never knew much about music therapy, so when I got to actually experience it - we did one where she played a song and she told me to just close my eyes and to dance. And she kind of led me through. It felt like more of a moving, musical meditation. And, like - I definitely don't meditate. I'm so not one of those people that just sits and breathes. That's not my thing.

They really gave me tools to calm myself down, and channel my energy and my thoughts into a calm place using music. And like Ben said - one of the symptoms of MS is memory loss, and forgetting things often, and I definitely experience that one. It's something as little as making a song about your grocery list, or something along those lines. It really gives you tools to be able to help manage a lot of the symptoms of MS.

Ben, you mentioned that a lot of the music therapy practices aren't that different from what you do to prepare for your daily life as a performer. Can you tell me a little more about how they compare?

Ben: It's very similar in terms of the mode itself. It's all dealing with the same kind of harnessing power of music to help with memory, with calmness, in terms of physical and mental calmness. With access to breath. It's all the same principles of things I use as a singer and as a performer.

But this is not, I want to reiterate, only for singers and performers! It's making all of those powers and all of those things music can do very accessible, and targeting them towards some of the symptoms and difficulties that come along with MS. It just highlights how specifically they can address those. But what's nice about it, for me, is it's under this umbrella that I think is very relatable and universal. Everybody can sort of find a way in. It's not esoteric at all.

What do you wish people knew about living with MS?

Courtney: I guess that it's not a death sentence, that it's manageable. When I was first diagnosed, people would go up to my mom and be like, "Oh my God, is she still dancing? What's happening?" And my mom would get really defensive, obviously! Like, "Of course she is! This doesn't define her!"

I think educating people and raising awareness that this is a manageable disease, and that you can function in everyday life as normally as you possibly can. I think getting rid of the stigma that you're just going to end up in a wheelchair is definitely something I would want people to know.

It's so important to see somebody managing every day.

Courtney: Yeah! People say to me all the time, "You don't look like you have MS." It's like, of course! It's an invisible disease. But I try to use that as an opportunity to educate people rather than condemning them for not knowing.

Where do you both find joy and levity when you're dealing with the daily stresses of life and living with illness?

Courtney: MS in Harmony modules definitely help, and I mean that sincerely. I think just surrounding myself with people I love, and people I care about. I joke and say, when I was diagnosed, MS kind of, like, became a Brita. I totally filtered out the people that stressed me out, and I just tried to surround myself with people I love.

Ben: I would second that, and specifically say that Courtney's son brings me a lot of joy! Because he's really funny and smart.

Courtney: And we love Uncle Benny!


Photo Credit: Eastward Films


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