Continuing the Conversation
The first play I ever wrote about heroin was a play for the Willoughby Fine Arts Association's "Theatre for Healthy Living Program." It was a play that would travel to high schools to warn kids about the dangers of heroin and opiate abuse. At the time (2013), I had no experience on any level with heroin, so I had a lot of research to do. But one day, I was fortunate enough to interview a group of young men in their twenties who were at least one year clean from heroin. Before I entered the interview room, I remember thinking to myself, "What am I about to walk into?" I won't lie. I was a little scared.
I quickly learned, however, that my preconceived notions couldn’t be more off base. Just minutes into our conversation, it became apparent that our communities weren’t losing “junkies,” as they’ve often been labeled, but in reality, we were hemorrhaging smart, talented, funny individuals who had much to offer. On the drive home from that interview, I promised myself that once I completed the high school play – COMPLETE AND TOTAL – I would write another play that could go to professional theatres, a play that would put faces to the statistics and begin a community conversation.
Not long thereafter, I wrote my second play WELL BEINGS that was produced at Cuyahoga Community College in Parma, Ohio, and received a workshop production at Cleveland Public Theatre. It's kind of like OUR TOWN but with heroin. After each show, we did have community discussions, so things were moving in the right direction. But they also weren’t reaching the levels I had hoped. The best thing that happened to me during that time is I met a man who was a great help to me with my research on that play. He was a man who had overcome heroin addiction and now helped others overcome their own, including some of those first young men I interviewed.
Then when I thought I was maybe done writing about heroin, I caught a break. Nathan Motta, the Artistic Director of Dobama Theatre in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, asked a group of playwrights to write a one-man show (something I’ve never done before) about a person from an under-represented community in Northeast, Ohio. I knew immediately who I would write about. And when I asked him if I could tell his story and put it onstage for the whole world to see (no pressure, right?!), his answer was as it always is:
“Sure, no problem, anything I can do to help.”
And here we are today. HOW TO BE A RESPECTABLE JUNKIE has been produced at two different theatres. It has also been performed for audiences for free at three universities; the ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County's “Roads to Recovery Conference”; the 2018 Dramatists Guild National Conference; a library; an art gallery in partnership with an exhibit about heroin addiction; and classrooms for second-year doctor students at the Cleveland Clinic. Tomorrow, we will perform at the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities Annual Conference in Pittsburgh – a region like Northeast Ohio struggling with heroin and opiate addiction.
When I first started this play, I couldn’t imagine it would travel to so many places. And in fact, I hoped it would travel mainly to theatres. But what we’re learning as we move from place to place, is HOW TO BE A RESPECTABLE JUNKIE does its most meaningful work when it goes into places where the epidemic strikes hardest and engages the community in discussion. Actor Christopher Bohan and I are both excited to talk with everyone at the conference tomorrow. And we hope to continue the conversation well into the future.