Our newest initiative, the Recovery Theatre, is a performing arts experience for young people overcoming trauma, addiction, anxiety, depression and other behavioral health challenges. Our programs are a space where teens struggling with mental health issues are valued as artists not patients. Part of its strength lies in the fact that it is not a clinic, agency or hospital. Put simply, it is a home for anyone living with circumstances that present barriers to them becoming their fullest selves.
Our innovative interventions utilize evidence-based best practices that take into account adolescents developing endocrine and nervous systems, include families and social supports and emphasize peer interactions so important to this age group. We incorporate aerial silks, flying trapeze, zip lines, white water rafting, climbing walls, dance, larger-than-life puppets and sets, music, yoga, guided meditation, 12-step, harm reduction, journaling, narrative and community therapy, reflecting teams, equine therapy and the gorgeous natural landscape of Franklin County. As one participant observed, “It sounds strange but it’s the best therapy I’ve had in my whole life in comparison to sitting on a couch with my muscles tense and ready to bolt out of the room at any second.”
Our programs are student-led not staff driven. Our youth leaders write, create direct and produce our indoor, outdoor traveling summer and winter spectacles and serve as peer mentors in our recovery intensives. Our summer productions are performed at Berkshire East. Theatergoers journey from scene to scene with performers and travel by chairlift from the base of the mountain to the top. Being part of something larger than oneself is a big part of the experience for many. It presents opportunities for young people to be mentored and mentor others, build confidence, experience agency, find their voices, repair attachments and build community.
While our mission is recovery, our business is hope. Working with addicted youth poses formidable challenges and combating nihilism and despair is a huge part of our mission. Addicted persons are often confronting multiple, complex problems from denial of the addiction itself to legacies of early trauma and abuse to histories of anxiety, depression and self-harm. It is soul-trying work. The healing and transformation we witness on a daily basis is inspiring. One of our alums, Allie, drives this point home:
"The Recovery Theatre is the one constant in my life. Showing up for the intensives is about proving something to myself. That I can finish something I started. It speaks to the healthy parts of me...I like seeing the big picture, which is the show. When I watch the performances it's incredible to see where everyone was in the beginning of the summer and what was created at the end. To see all the confidence developed and other things the program focuses on...The first time I flew on the trapeze I was terrified. You're very high up. You could get hurt. You have to have faith that these people will catch you and keep you safe. It requires a lot of trust. Afterwards, I knew I wanted to be part of this healthy group. I wanted to grow with these people. My favorite part is the falling. It’s the feeling of release and adrenaline rush you get when you let go of the bar. I don't feel like getting high when I'm there. ”
One of our performers, a founding member of the Recovery Theatre and Summer Workshop participant, Rose (name changed), was expelled from her school for breaking its substance abuse policy. During an exercise in her first recovery intensive, Rose was asked to write a “goodbye letter" to her addiction. The activity is designed to help participants "externalize" their problems, to begin seeing themselves as up against a problem rather than their being the problem. Rose wrote the following letter to her addiction:
"Dear Narcotics, Pot (acid, alcohol) etc.
Thanks for all you've done for me. You've helped me forget my
problems. You've made me feel good. You've made me see the world
in a whole new perspective. You've made me fail out of my freshman year.
You've made me ruin the lining of my esophagus and stomach.
You've made the relationship with my parents go down
hill...I've gotten fucked up emotionally and used by abusing you;
even after all those complaints I don't want to give you up because I'll be alone."
A Recovery Story...
After attending a 14-day rehab program Rose joined us on the set of one of our spectacles. She had no prior acting experience and started out helping to design costumes and props. She went with us to see Double Edge Theatre’s production of Shahrazad, her first time witnessing live theater. The following day she asked for a small speaking part. She worked with several of our visiting artists, young interns from Double Edge Theatre, on developing her scene work. These were people she never would have encountered in her daily life. Some performers find their way into the arts through high-powered college and graduate programs while others struggle in school. Similar to Rose, these artists discovered early in life that more conventional approaches to learning didn't bring out their best creativity and effort. At the conclusion of the program, Rose performed on stage for the first time—three sellout shows to 600+ audience members. The next summer she took on a larger role and was part of our first ever “Girls Leadership and Theater Training” The purpose of this daylong retreat is to help young women develop the LEADERSHIP skills and self-confidence they need to succeed on the stage and in life as well as to nurture strong, positive relationships with peers and adults. Two years ago she graduated from high school and was awarded a $60,000 scholarship to attend Curry College.
“The Recovery Theater was a godsend for helping our family support a young lady, newly living with us, who was struggling with a recent heroin exposure. I had no idea where to even start in helping her. The Recovery Intensive provided the perfect combination of both structure and adrenalin rush (a.k.a. trapeze) that kept her connected. We could not have navigated this summer without this program...Little did I know that it would also be a pivotal experience for my son. He struggles with severe anxiety. The week provided him with so many positive and meaningful experiences. Through drama and prose, he was able to find a voice for some of his fears. The balance between being on the edge of panic yet strangely safe at the same time allowed him to sleep and laugh in ways we rarely see. Finally, both kids felt so accepted as human beings yet totally hearing that their addiction and anxiety levels weren’t okay. They heard the reality that those broken parts didn’t have to define them.” (Kam O., parent)
“A real source of strength"
Saying ‘Goodbye’ to Anxiety
Learning How to Fall
It never ceases to amaze me how a dozen people, all with messy lives and loads of luggage, have the ability to create the most calming and therapeutic environment for one another. We had the whole building to ourselves, only lit by a total of four lanterns. I was so worry free I lost the concept of time. My only focus was breathing to the music and matching my body movements to everybody else’s. It sounds strange but it’s the best therapy I’ve had in my whole life in comparison to sitting on a couch with my muscles tense and ready to bolt out of the room at any second. After the training, we gathered again in the lantern lit space to put some words into writing. —ALEX S (age 15)
One of the things I’m most proud about the Recovery Theatre, and why I am so honored to be a part of it, is the opportunity it gives young people to claim ownership of the title “artist” after having gone through something in their lives that they feel is really labeling them in a negative way. And so taking ownership of a positive label and a positive title like actor or performer is just an incredibly refreshing thing to see.—ALYSSA WRIGHT, Co-founder Recovery Theatre
The Recovery Theater was a godsend for helping our family support a young lady, newly living with us, who was struggling with a recent heroin exposure. I had no idea where to even start in helping her. The Recovery Intensive provided the perfect combination of both structure and adrenalin rush (a.k.a. trapeze) that kept her connected. We could not have navigated this summer without this program...Little did I know that it would also be a pivotal experience for my son. He struggles with severe anxiety. The week provided him with so many positive and meaningful experiences. Through drama and prose, he was able to find a voice for some of his fears. The balance between being on the edge of panic yet strangely safe at the same time allowed him to sleep and laugh in ways we rarely see. Finally, both kids felt so accepted as human beings yet totally hearing that their addiction and anxiety levels weren’t okay. They heard the reality that those broken parts didn’t have to define them.--KAM O. (Parent)
As a parent of a 14 year-old daughter who could not attend eighth grade due to her panic disorder, her experience in the Recovery Intensive was just what she needed after a brutal year of isolation, teasing and therapy. She told me that for the first time she felt “okay” to share how her anxiety had interrupted her life. She never felt like the outsider. She felt accepted just as she was. She started to gain her self esteem back and felt empowered. My daughter was back!—SANDI M. (parent ’16 & 17)
My daughter came out of her shell in the Recovery Intensive. She spoke her mind, contributed in the group setting and discovered new ways for self expression…Her self hatred and low self esteem seemed to just drift away! It was amazing to watch her grow so significantly in such a small amount of time…She put a lot of her heart and soul into this experience and I can't say enough good about her time in both workshops. She's also better able to channel her anxiety, sings more, draws more engages more…And she's found her passion in the trapeze!—DANIELLE N. (parent 15, 16, 17)
Your theatre-based intervention offers young people access to networks of safety and unconditional peer love...In a way, your mission prescribes plays over pills.—PAUL McNEIL, Director of the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County “