A group of young recovering addicts are putting on plays across Massachusetts. It’s all a part of their recovery, and an effort to encourage teens and other young adults to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
It’s called Drug Story Theater. Psychiatrist Joseph Shrand is the founder. Back in the 1970s, Shrand was an original cast member of the PBS show Zoom. Decades later, he’s realized the time he spent on stage as a kid could be a form of therapy for people he helps counsel.
“The idea was this: How do we remind kids of their value? Adolescents want three things: They want to feel pleasure, take risks, and be social. That, unfortunately is a set up for addiction. But it’s also what theater is all about,” Shrand said.
“The feeling that you get from kids clapping, that’s like the most intense feeling ever,” said Jared, one of the cast members, who said he started using because he didn’t feel accepted.
Through the aid of director and script-writer Nicole Conlon-McCombe, the drug stories of each performer are woven into one show.
“It’s shocking to hear from our kids, and I think to back when I was their age this stuff wasn’t on my radar,” said McCombe.
They’ve done everything from acid to cough medicine and synthetic marijuana. But opening up and allowing their tough experiences to positively influence middle and high school students is key to their recovery. Not only do they rehearse together, they also chat weekly about life’s ups and downs.
“I think without Drug Story Theater, I would just feel completely alone. I’d probably still be using heavy drugs. And just giving it all away,” said Melvin, a cast member who started using when he was 14.
“Getting up on stage, that’s a good feeling, and if I’m using, I’m not going to be able to do Drug Story Theater,” said Shana, a performer who used synthetic marijuana.
The play even touches upon the impact drugs and alcohol have on the adolescent brain.
“They’re gonna mess your life up,” said cast member Jacob. “All these chemicals in your brain are going to change without you knowing it, whether you like it or not.”
Since its inception, Drug Story Theater has been performed in front of more than 20,000 students across the state. The goal is for the concept of Drug Story Theater to go nationwide, allowing various communities to write their own play.