Although loneliness is a topic not discussed too often, it is one that carries much importance. Throughout the pandemic during the past year, this topic was made even more real when the world shut down and quarantine began to globally take effect.

Travis Payne, a world-renowned director, producer, choreographer for Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé and Travis Payne Productions (TPP) recently announced a partnership with Dr. JW Freiberg (“Dr. Terry”), to co-produce his award-winning Loneliness Trilogy books as a docuseries.

Known as the “Oliver Sacks of law,” Freiberg’s first television project leverages his groundbreaking research on the topic of loneliness.

The timeliness of this project is apropos. Loneliness has been identified as a serious public
health risk, according to the CDC. With countless people struggling with isolation, disconnection and loneliness during the pandemic, there are millions who can relate to this topic.

“I think we know less about loneliness than we think we know,” Freiberg said. “Just like we know less about being traumatized than we think we know. I am on the board of the Trauma Research Foundation and have been watching the development of trauma psychiatry over the last 30 years. We didn’t know much about trauma victims and what plagued them so deeply and so profoundly in all of the spheres of their lives.”

“I think that’s very parallel to loneliness. We’re all lonely from time to time just like we’re all sad from time to time. There is a level of loneliness or trauma that we call chronic loneliness, which has nothing to do with everyday loneliness, and it is utterly debilitating and it’s gotten far worse during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Freiberg continues, “there is some very sound and solid research published in the last month on the statistics of depression, anxiety disorders and suicide numbers as well. They are highly augmented by the presence of this horrific pandemic.”

Even though Payne has traveled the world extensively, he is a Georgia native at heart and former Morehouse student. He plans to take his ties and effectively reach the community, even with a topic as sensitive as loneliness.

“Being from Southwest Atlanta I am no stranger to hard knocks. The African American family unit has disconnects that are generational. Living on the West coast I see how people benefit from having professional help to process their emotions. This is a valuable tool not many African American families take advantage of,” Payne said.

“Through my travels, what I’ve realized is that the thing that connects people is the ability to feel when something is out of line. It is my hope that through this project and others that we can be of service to the community as well as providing an entertaining piece of work to influence generations to come.”

Freiberg has used a unique approach to storytelling with his legal and medical experience to write these stories of real people’s personal accounts.

“You can’t effectively lecture somebody about the quality of their relationships and their need to do better if they want to feel better, just like you can’t talk to trauma victims straight up in talk therapy. In the trauma field, we’ve learned in the last three decades that you have to approach through their body. Through dance, yoga and theatre to act out roles of relationships. The same is true for loneliness,” Freiberg said.

“A way I communicate the work I do is through storytelling. Many law cases come to lawyers as stories. The kind of law I do comes as stories. It comes as people telling you about their lives or clinicians telling you about their client’s lives. From that I got a spark for an idea talking about loneliness by presenting real world stories that the clinicians deal with and that I was consulted on as counsel to these clinicians.”

Creating the perfect partnership between Payne, TPP and Freiberg was simple because their personal feelings towards loneliness and their goals to help offset this epidemic aligned seamlessly.

“Loneliness for me is a state of mind. I feel that a lot of my loneliness doesn’t always come when I’m by myself. It comes when one is out of touch with his or her emotions. It is a broad term, however, Dr. Terry has eloquently put it in many ways and has shared many different examples. For me, I am loneliest when I am not connected to my higher power, not aware of my surroundings and don’t stay centered in the moment. This is not only a business venture but a learning experience as well,” Payne said.

“I am best known as a creator on the small screen. Natural progression allows us to grow. I heard about his [Dr. Terry’s] trilogy and I was instantly fascinated and intrigued. It’s an epidemic that we all suffer from, even myself. We’ve had time to be away from the hustle and bustle of life which leaves one alone with themselves. A lot of this had hit home for me. My story telling started with dance and this is a new forum of storytelling that will allow me to build on my legacy.”

Furthermore, this docuseries is not only for those who are suffering from loneliness, it is truly something that everyone can benefit from and something that allows people to reflect on their own lives. It will allow people to view loneliness from a different perspective and provide tidbits of information that they can apply to themselves and their relationships.

Payne says, “The stories are there. We are working from a body of work that is varied in its inception. It’s really being able to represent the stories in a visually stunning way that is attractive to people. We like to have a broad audiences, not only for academics or clinicians. Our approach will be approachable because the people represented in all of these stories are just that. By extension our portrayal of them on camera and film will need to be in alignment.”

Feelings are without a doubt one of the most pertinent objectives of this docuseries. As well as understanding and interpreting how humans feel and what exactly it means to feel.

“It’s not an emotion like anger, it’s a sensation like hunger or thirst. We humans often forget that we’re 90 percent animal and 10 percent human. We are mammals and we bear a lot of similar properties to other mammals. When other mammals get hungry or thirsty they don’t think about the fact that its time to eat, they just do it. They go fishing, hunting or whatever it is that their species does to capture some food,” Freiburg said.

“It will be sensitive to the data and what it is that makes people fulfill relationships and feel fully connected to others. For instance, Van Gogh, he does his paintings in such a way that we look and think wow. It becomes hard to put words to it but we know how it feels. People come from all around the world to view his artwork, but everyone can get the feeling. We get the feeling the artist meant to convey, I think that’s the key,” Freiberg continues, “I’ m trying to get the feelings involved from circumstances. I hope that the goal is we present the feelings that are down at the basis. The basis of loneliness is what you feel, not what you think.”

“That’s what makes people feel anxious about being isolated, separated and disconnected. It’s not the thought that I don’t have enough friends or my relationships aren’t profound enough, it’s the feeling of not being attached. The example I always like to use is what hurts more, a broken arm or a broken heart? With a broken arm you have all your friends sign your cast that you wear for 6-8 weeks. A broken heart can take a months to heal, or a year or several years.”

Payne has had the pleasure of working with some of the biggest artists in the world. Many of whom have been held on a high pedestal by fans or others who aspire to be like them or be a part of their profession.

“I think that everybody that has the courage to embark on an entertainment career has felt a sense of loneliness or rejection before. We compartmentalize. We want to introduce new tools for creatives to have in their arsenal. What makes a lot of performers great is their pain, visual artists are like painters. The key is to protect yourself as you navigate your career. It’s been a priority for me to check into myself regularly. There is a way in which we can convey it and in a way people will accept and find palatable in their own lives.”

Travis Payne, 49, an Atlanta native, is also a world-renowned director, producer, choreographer for Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé (Photo Credit: Associated Press)
Travis Payne, 49, an Atlanta native, is also a world-renowned director, producer, choreographer for Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

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