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The healing power of theater proves to put on a show

September 29th, 2011

What do recovering addicts and theater productions have in common? For the men of the Y-Haven Theater Project in Cleveland, everything.

The Y-Haven Program is a program for men in recovery for drug and alcohol addiction that provides transitional housing, recovery services, treatment for mental illness, educational training, vocational services and permanent housing placement. Since 2000, they have been working together with the Cleveland Public Theater to help the Y-Haven residents recover through the writing, producing, and performing of plays.

However, these aren’t your standard plays. The performances these 15 to 25 men create each year are based on their personal struggles with addiction and recovery. This year’s production spotlights family issues and the struggle to do right within the community.

The group will be making a stop on their cross-Cleveland tour at John Carroll on Friday, Dec. 2 at noon.

Chris Seibert, director of education at the Cleveland Public Theater, said their stop at JCU last year elicited a strong response.

“I think students got a lot out of seeing people who were homeless at one point,” said Seibert. “It puts a different face on a population that is very poorly represented in the media.”

The project gives audiences a peek at what it is like to be in recovery. Seibert noted this is a unique aspect of the program.

“It can be a mysterious process since most projects are anonymous. This is a group of men openly talking about their recovery,” she said.

The men have been hard at work since August, and as opening day approaches, they will ramp up their rehearsal schedule to five days a week.

The project has helped over 200  men since its inception in 2000, and the participants themselves have responded positively to the project.

“Many of them cite this as a great opportunity to finally show their family and friends that they can do something that they’re proud of,” said Seibert.

The men are paid for successfully completing their work on the project, which adds an element of job training as another facet of recovery. They are actively involved in each aspect of putting the production together, from story and character development to running lights and sound.

“They talk a lot about how it supports their work in recovery, having to learn the teamwork, compromise, and support needed to make and perform a play is the same thing they’re practicing in the recovery process,” said Seibert.

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the production occurs after the performance is over, and the men have a “talkback” with the audience, which Seibert calls “a structured feedback session.”

Aside from its JCU stop, the project will travel to various Cleveland locations. It will open on Nov. 17 at the Cleveland Public Theater, where there will be four performances running until Nov. 20, one of which will be a large benefit for Y-Haven.

“We’re really excited to be back at John Carroll,” said Seibert. “It’s a really intelligent and caring community that is both ready for this message and open to it.”