Barred Acceptance: Recovering the addict in scenes from How to Be a Respectable Junkie and The Motherfucker with the Hat
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How do we perform ourselves so that we are a part of, and participate in society? How is this question factored in when facing either side of the coin of addiction? There are strong stigmas about addicts that are derived from how heavy drinking and substance misuse are performed. These stigmas can be diluted and changed by how addiction and recovery are performed. The character types that embody addicts in performance tend to be criminals, outcasts, and/or fatally flawed. This production of a monologue and scene, titled Barred Acceptance, intends to explore this subject by way of presenting them in a setting that puts recovery and addiction at the forefront. By staging this in a bar where substance and the propensity for abuse lie, this forces an audience directly into an environment where stigma is associated and tries to eliminate the theatricality of the performance so that the reality of addiction is the focus not the performance itself. The opiate epidemic in the US over the last ten years has exacerbated the already existing negative stigma towards addicts, and their place in society. Despite starting the ball rolling in terms of opiate addiction, pharmaceutical companies and prescribing doctors dodge the stigma that is laid upon the community of addicts. The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the people who struggle with opiate addiction. Recent theatrical performances strive to portray addiction, addicts, and recovery in a realistic, and honest way. In the last decade in American theatre, portraying the recovery process and addicts in recovery gives an audience the opportunity to re-define the stigma that surrounds addiction and how it is performed in the real world as well as on stage. In addition to showing recovery, the reality of addiction is now being illustrated with characters we would otherwise identify as normal. This grounds an audience in familiar and relatable territory. How to be a Respectable Junkie by Greg Vovos, and Motherfucker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis are two prime examples of where the lens is more focused on the humanity of addiction, and recovery as opposed to narrowing in on the addiction itself, and the behavior and characteristics associated with it. The characters in these plays are flawed by their enslavement to addiction and addictive behavior, not by their label as addicts. How does performing addiction and recovery reduce the negative stigma surrounding the health and civil rights issues surrounding recovered addicts’ place in society? Contrasting methods of using real addicts performing their stories, or as Jan Cohen-Curz calls it, community-based performance, versus dramatizations of addicts either in turmoil or in recovery is worth examining when contemplating the question: does stigma limit the effectiveness of performance? By design addicts are stigmatized; living in squalor or homeless, stealing, cheating, even murdering are used as identifying traits of addicts. These iterations strengthen the negative stigma, and distance an audience. We perform ourselves, and perceive others’ performances, as normal by not eliciting the designated signs of addiction. Addiction and addicts have a place in society, and it is by performance that we shed light on where that place is. By showing that it lives next door to us, in the cubicle across the office, in front of us in line at the grocery store, even delivering packages to our door step, we bring an entire community out of the shadows and more evenly distribute the burden that addiction places on the entirety of society, not just the addicts themselves.