Inside St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Teaneck, a cast of volunteers mostly from Bergen and Hudson counties rehearse for the latest performance of a play called “Visions.”
The play, written in 1991, relates several narratives of drug addiction, treatment, hitting rock bottom, and recovery. Its author shares personal experiences in the struggle of addiction, along with stories of those he’s met along the way.
The script took shape as the author, an auto mechanic with no prior directing, writing, or production experience, penned vignettes during his lunch breaks.
He goes only by his first name, Bob, as do the cast members involved in the play. Anonymity is important to the project because many but not all cast members had been treated for addiction.
The preparation is more than that of any sensible method actor.
Bob said that the play’s first showing in 1991 was a 20-minute performance at Secaucus’s Integrity House treatment facility.
“I had no prior theater experience back then,” Bob said. “At first, the play was turned down by colleges and theaters, who said it wasn’t their cup of tea. In the beginning, treatment facilities and churches were our friends.”
Churches and treatment centers in Union City, West New York, Hoboken, and elsewhere were among the first venues to welcome the performance.
Since then, the play has expanded to roughly 70 minutes. Hundreds of cast members have volunteered over the years.
The “Visions” team’s most ideal venue is a rehab, halfway house, or other treatment facility.
The play, presented by members of the recovery community, is meant to invoke feelings of hope for newcomers to addiction treatment. Actors serve as living examples of those who conquered the disease.
The rare fees that the nonprofit troupe receives are donated to local treatment centers or used to “bring the play to those who have nothing,” Bob said.
The play has been shown to churches, schools, at-risk youth, educators, medical professionals, and members of the public who may be in the orbit of someone struggling.
“It’s often said that you either are one, or you know one,” one cast member said.
The troupe has performed for an estimated 40,000 people so far. Its audience members have ranged from Riker’s Island inmates to former U.S. Presidents.
Fly on the wall
The Hudson Reporter caught up with members of the troupe during one of its rehearsals.
“Performing in this play was the first time I’ve ever been able to articulate my own experience with addiction,” one cast member said. “Bob has created a unique channel for us to share our gift of recovery, and if this performance can save even one life, it’s more than worth it.”
One vignette depicts a man isolated in a holding cell, suffering through delirium tremens, a potentially fatal symptom of alcohol withdrawal. Others depict those who are homeless or victimized by abusers as a result of addiction. Other scenes depict those who resort to dangerous sex work and stealing from family members in to score their drug of choice. Vignettes emphasize the damage that addiction can cause both to addicts and their loved ones.
“What we perform is a depiction of the absolute reality of addiction, and the nature of this cunning, baffling, and powerful disease,” another cast member said. “We relive the insanity of it, in order to connect with fellow actors for the shared purpose of helping people. This is, by and large, a service to those who need it most.”
Long-term survival is not guaranteed for anyone suffering from addiction.
While some characters don’t live to be part of the recovery group scene which serves as the play’s finale, the emphasis remains on recovery.
“People in the audience can be touched whether they’re in recovery, have a family member who’s gone through it, or know about it,” a cast member said. “They say the reality of it hits them, and we can see it in their faces.”
Show on the road
After a series of shows in northern New Jersey, “Visions” was performed in rehabs, churches, prisons, and shelters in regions far and wide.
They’ve performed as far west as Texas, with audiences deeming it “incredibly moving.”
“Even in prisons like Riker’s Island, people can be seen weeping,” Bob said. “But they’re weeping out of hope.”
“Visions” had an off-Broadway production at the Hudson Guild Theatre in New York City, where the troupe garnered funding for area treatment centers. The troupe donated two-thirds of all ticket proceeds to treatment centers.
“Visions” received continuing-education credits from the Addiction Professionals Certification Board of New Jersey shortly after its debut.
The play received accolades from municipal and state departments dealing with addiction and other mental health issues as well as multiple Points of Light awards. It also received commendations from former presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
The next “Visions” performance has yet to be announced, but Bob said that they’re looking to perform by early winter. Visit visionrecoveryplay.com for show times.
The troupe seeks new volunteers who are 18 years or older. To inquire about joining the cast or crew, call Bob at 201-281-4215.