In my mid-20’s, I began an amateur theatre group called ‘The Recovery Theatre & Arts Project.’ My goal with the group was to provide a safe haven in which anyone who considered themselves a survivor and who was also interested in creative expression could gather together, explore and share the journey. In an interview back in 1994, I explained that, in my opinion, being a ‘survivor’ is completely subjective... “When I say that this group is for artists in recovery, I mean people who are on the path toward active self-awareness. Survivors, to me, are people who identify themselves as such – whether a survivor of life, trauma, abuse, diseases of addiction, a car accident, self-esteem issues, divorce, illness, death of a loved one, a crime of some kind, rape, incest... Being a survivor involves working through something rather than letting fear of the experience hold you back or rather than letting the pain of the experience hold you down.” (from an interview with The Call Board, an Atlanta area performing arts publication, October 1994)
I had no formal training in the performing arts (other than being a musician throughout my school years) and although I studied social psychology in college I didn’t feel this particularly qualified me to begin such a group. What sparked the idea was that I saw the need, and I have always been very passionate about my belief that, in our society, most of us don’t tend to connect on a very deep level with one another. And my forte, being creative expression, simply became the spark.
Basically, the group met twice a month, and I organized a schedule based on the various people who chose to be involved at any given time. During one meeting, we would produce a play. Members of the group who wished to act, would rehearse for several months and then perform. Many members found this acting opportunity extremely cathartic. Other members, who did not wish to act, would request particular characters or storylines, and I would write the plays accordingly. Then, as spectators, these members would watch their story idea (often autobiographical) unfold. This too, was obviously very cathartic. And often quite intense. It also offered us all the opportunity to connect on a very deep and intimate level.
After such a performance, one of our members would lead a discussion. This too could become quite intense, and we navigated the issues with love, honesty and gentleness: I always took it quite seriously never to leave someone emotionally charged without addressing it. If the performance had been on the lighter side, we sometimes indulged in creative acting games, so that the audience could become more completely involved in the process.
At other meetings, we would open the space as an art gallery, so that everyone who wished to participate could bring in their chosen works and share. They were encouraged to tell stories about their artwork, and if they desired, receive support and sometimes feedback. I remember an interaction with a woman who long before had been raped, and had secretly painted canvas after canvas in the years after that experience as she processed the pain and shame. She had kept the works under her bed, showing no one, not even her current husband. When she dusted a few off and shared them, it was nothing less than a turning point in her life. She allowed us to witness her experience as well as the creative tools she used to survive. As I further mentioned in the interview, “...The Project allows us to focus on the creative facets we’ve never had a chance to explore; validation of our traumas and celebration of our gifts that have made it through.”
At other meetings, I brought in an artist from the community to lead a group activity. I vividly recall one evening in which a performer introduced us to contact-dancing, which offers people an immediate sense of interconnection and mutual support and an exploration of trust and self esteem. Another meeting involved a drumming session, a fun way to indulge in playing musically within a group... an incredible way to sense that underlying pulse of life.
The Recovery Theatre & Arts Project (RTAP) lasted for two amazing years... It is one of my goals to revive it once again. The main reason it did not continue was because, as I’ve often found in my own experience, there are limited resources and support for creative projects within our culture today. This is not only quite frustrating and often deeply saddening; it’s also a waste of potential. Those who are creative long to share it, whether in an open way or in a more private way, and the sharing provides a deep sense of fulfillment and as I’ve mentioned, a deep means of connection. In my opinion, this has broad implications for our society, on many levels. I encourage you to message or email me with your thoughts on this important topic. And of course, I’ll certainly get the word out when I start up RTAP once again. I do believe that someday, and relatively soon, our society will begin to re-awaken an understanding of just how vital it is to support this facet of ourselves. It will be interesting and exciting to see how that unfolds.
I have written other stage plays, and I have dabbled with the concept of calling some of them ‘Skeleton Plays.’ This refers to the idea that the works are in fact complete, but as the writer I invite the director and actors to add to or adapt the piece as they like. This obviously lends itself to a great deal of customization of the work given the particular performers and audience. That the players thus interact with me (the writer), through time and space, makes me giddy. To me, that’s true art indeed.