The therapeutic qualities of theater are being implemented in a new theatrical program in Massachusetts called Drug Story Theater. The show features the true stories of its performers, local teens from Plymouth County, Massachusetts, who have struggled with substance abuse and are currently in recovery. By performing shows at local middle and high schools, the program aims to benefit both the performers and audiences while reducing the rate of substance abuse among children and teenagers nationwide. As Dr. Joseph Shrand, founder of Drug Story Theater, explains, “The treatment of one becomes the prevention of many, that’s our slogan.”
Drug Story Theater has been wildly successful since its first production in the summer of 2014. Performers undergo training in the form of 12-session programs that incorporate not only improvisational workshops, but also group therapy sessions centered on addiction and the science behind it. Shrand, a child psychologist, founded Drug Story Theater after recognizing similarities between the high produced by substance abuse and the rush performers attain during live theater. This natural high is produced primarily by a rush of oxytocin to the brain, as opposed to the production of dopamine caused by drugs or alcohol. In an effort to empower recovering teen addicts and expose them to natural highs, Shrand realized the program could also benefit the community and reduce rates of drug abuse and addiction. A teen from South Boston who is involved in the program states, “We’ve all been through it and we know where you’re going to end up. Once you start this, it’s really hard to stop. I learned that the hard way. That’s why I’m here. I’m trying to make kids not make the same mistakes I did.” Nurses with experience in addiction treatment and improvisational theater are also on staff to aid the process and ensure a healthy environment for the performers.
This program quickly gained support from local and state officials. State Senator Vinny de Macedo was able to allocate $50,000 for the initial start-up costs, though Drug Story Theater hopes to be self-sufficient within the next couple of years. De Macedo explains, “The hope is that the people in treatment will get a sense of satisfaction, working through their addiction by helping people and not hurting themselves.” Shrand hopes Drug Story Theater expands to a nationwide initiative, noting that an allocation of $2,500 from half of the public schools in the nation would make an education fund for students in recovery in the amount of roughly $20 million. A program in the United Kingdom has a similar mission, as the U.K.’s Drug and Alcohol Education and Prevention Team published “Drug and Alcohol Education Through Theater: Guidance for Schools and Commissioners,” outlining the ways in which theater can be therapeutic for all parties involved within the context of drug and alcohol treatment and education.
Shrand feels that the teen audiences of Drug Story Theater performances will be more likely to respond to real recovering teen addicts telling their stories than a classic assembly on the dangers of substance abuse. A 2007 study conducted on the effects of activist theater on an audience supports this theory. In the study, six performances of a play entitled, “Tunnels,” a series of vignettes on drug and alcohol abuse, were performed at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). Audiences were given pre-show and post-show surveys, then a follow-up call three months following the performance. Before the performance, nearly half of the audience members expressed interest in pursuing drug abuse prevention efforts. Three months after the performances, nearly all of the audience members reported involvement in drug prevention activities. These efforts included starting a dialogue with family or friends, making charitable donations related to drug abuse prevention or treatment, volunteering and more.
If you or your child is struggling with substance abuse, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility specializing in treating adolescents and teenagers struggling with substance abuse, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group