Matt Schickling, the Wire
When talking about drug abuse in 2015, Quaaludes and steroids are just about as relevant as the “Just Say No” approach.
These themes permeate Jerome McDonough’s 30-year-old play Addict, originally performed with 1980s-era drug culture in mind. Next week, Hatboro-Horsham High School students will be giving the play a modern take, thanks to an extensive rewrite by English teacher and Theatre Club adviser Kristin Hannings.
“The issues and the landscape of teenage culture are totally different,” Hannings said. “There are things now that didn’t exist then.”
Her modernized version will include issues of prescription pill abuse, mental health and technology. Some parts of the play explicitly address Snapchat and Twitter, social media applications that, when misused, can cause problems among adolescents like bullying or unwanted sharing of pictures or videos. Some of the abuse discussed includes alcohol, Adderall, Molly, synthetic marijuana and huffing.
“We kind of base the characters from something we know,” Claire O’Neil, a sophomore who’s acting in the play, said. “A lot of teenagers can connect with it.”
This is not the first time Hannings rewrote the script. A 2012 production by Hatboro-Horsham students featured a more lightly edited script. Then, the play’s most modern moment was a scene that included texting.
The play features 10 vignettes, each portraying an individual adolescent’s struggle with drug addiction.
For example, Sammy Blackburn, a senior at Hatboro-Horsham, is playing Michelle, a teen who uses alcohol to cope with self-esteem and social anxiety issues. She falls into a “perpetual state” of alcohol use — between classes, after school, at parties — which obscures her personality, especially in regard to how she interacts with guys.
This is the same format as the original play, but the situations have been altered almost completely from the original text — Hannings places it at around a 90-percent rewrite.
But it’s not just the plot-line content that’s changed. Hannings, along with Kim Rubenstein, who heads Be a Part of the Conversation, a local nonprofit dedicated to raising substance abuse awareness, contacted recovering addicts and treatment professionals for advice to make the language of the play authentic.
“A lot of the stories are taken from people’s actual stories,” Rubenstein said. “It’s so real. I think that’s what’s so powerful. It’s completely authentic.”
Some of the students visited Caron, an addiction treatment center in Plymouth Meeting, to build a better understanding of people struggling with addiction.
“There’s just no stereotype that all addicts fit into,” Bryan Haglin, a junior performing in the play, said. “It was a good experience.”
For these reasons, Addict does not match the typical high school production standard. This will not be The Sound of Music or Grease. In fact, Hannings recommends that no one under the age of 13 attend.
“This is not your average, light musical or play,” Rubenstein said. “It’s a lot of pressure.”
And a lot of that pressure weighs on the actors, who range from sophomores to seniors at the high school.
“It’s asking them to examine more painful emotions that we wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to talk about in a theater production,“ Hannings said.
The play is geared toward suburban adolescents and the situations they might face, and that reality may hit pretty close to home for those in the audience or even in the cast.
“They take on that responsibility in a very mature way,” Rubenstein added.
The students are even involved in the script editing process. Hannings called the script a “breathing document” that is constantly evolving with each rehearsal. Sometimes, the actors will come up with better phrasing or contribute to content, and the changes will be adapted into the play.
Because the event is staged by Be a Part of the Conversation, there will be breakout sessions in the cafeteria after the performance to discuss substance abuse issues. This is a feature of all of the organization’s events.
“When you engage someone in a discussion, they’re much more likely to relate, to learn something,” Rubenstein said. “We want to give them an opportunity to participate in some way.”
The group of eight to 10 will feature a young person in recovery to share their experiences and facilitate discussion.
“There’s so much value in having them talk with others. They’re so honest about their stories, so honest about what took them there,” Rubenstein added.
So while the play is “dark” and “intense,” the outcome can be positive and enlightening. It can open a dialogue for people who may need it or may know someone who is struggling.
“Addiction doesn’t discriminate,” Hannings said. “It can happen to anyone.”
The play will be performed on March 19 and 21 at Hatboro-Horsham High School, 899 Horsham Road in Horsham, at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. For information, visit www.conversation.zone.com.