In 2018, I was commissioned by Civic Ensemble of Ithaca, New York to help devise and write a new play based on their ReEntry Theatre Program — a free arts initiative for people who've experienced incarceration and/or drug rehabilitation. The program participants developed the raw material through theatre games and writing exercises, which I then took and transformed into a full-length script.
Streets Like This originally ran for 3 sold out performances in May 2018, featuring a cast of program participants, whose personal stories of addiction and incarceration inspired the script. The people involved in this show from the start have gone on to make some tremendous policy changes for social services and criminal justice reform in Tompkins County, New York, and decided to remount the show again this spring.
Then the COVID-19 outbreak happened.
But the cast and company got together one last time and filmed their production without an audience. It's streaming now for free between April 30 and May 17, 2020; and since they can't raise any money through ticket sales, they're hoping the video will bring in some donations so they can keep this program going.
Working on this play and getting to know these actors was an eye-opening and inspiring experience for me, and I know it's had a positive impact on their lives, too. I hope you'll check it out, and if you're feeling generous, throw some money their way so they can keep doing good work in changing the ways our society deals with addiction and incarceration.
If you're still not sold, here's a brief synopsis of the play:
Inspired by real-life stories, Streets Like This follows the lives of five people dealing with incarceration, poverty, and addiction, whose lives overlap through the same social service programs. There's Brian, a middle-class mama's boy who spent four months in county jail over prescription pills, and now struggles to stay clean while helping out his widowed mother; Abby, a single mom and recovering heroin addict who's trying to win her young son back from Child Protective Services; and Crystal, a survivor of domestic violence who's been forced to turn to prostitution to keep a roof above her family while she navigates the bureaucratic maze of poverty. Their stories are framed by Deon and Dennis, the drunk elder statesmen of the social service block who've spent their lives trapped in system. Deon wants to help the audience understand the intersections of poverty, addiction, and incarceration, but disgruntled Dennis can't see beyond the fourth wall (or his internalized misogyny). Together, they break through the fourth wall, and plead with the audience to understand their struggles and stories, and make a change to the system that has trapped them all.
The Ithaca Times also has a more in-depth article on the impact of the ReEntry theatre program. I've embedded the script below as well, if that's more your speed.
Streets Like This [Thom Dunn with A.C. Sidle in collaboration with members of the ReEntry Theatre Program / Directed by Sarah K. Chalmers for Civic Ensemble]