So the opening performance of I Remember Justine has now ended and I am happy to hear that it was taken so well! We were expecting only half the number of the audience that showed up! It is truly a blessing to have so much support and love from the community. Personally, I could not have had a better experience in my recovery than being a part of Laura Wood’s and Dave Mower’s project, Recovery Through Performance.
The few hours leading up to the opening performance was about as large of an anxiety bomb for me than I expected. Although I was glad we were able to squeeze in a quick (and yes it was comically quick) rehearsal prior to the show, I can tell you from personal experience that all I could hear the entire time leading up to the performance was my heart beating in my chest. I stood in the twelve or so inches of space behind the curtain “backstage” before the start of the show trying to ground myself. I know the rest of the amazing cast was doing the same as I looked over to my right at them. I was handed a live phone call from Angela and it was Dave Mowers who was in a rehearsal over in New York. He told me to breath and stay aware of the present by touching the wall behind me with my hands. And most of all, he said how proud he was of us. I can’t express how much this helped bring a level of peace and tranquility in me just minutes before the show. I was already sweating and I hadn’t yet run around the stage with Justine yet!
When the doors opened at 7:00 pm, I made the decision to not peek through the curtains to see who all was filing into the audience chairs. The amount of whispers and low conversations I could overhear were innumerable. Clearly we were getting a LOT more than 30 individuals to watch the show. Before I completely lost focus of my body to embody Mateo, I heard a peer whisper in my direction, “…. standing room only.” HOLY SHIT! No time to panic! Laura began speaking to the audience and all I could focus on at that point was the feel of the wall behind me and the lines Mateo would soon be saying.
The lights then dimmed to near pitch black which was our cue to enter the stage. I slipped on my aviators the second I found the adirondack chairs, sat down, and immediately closed my eyes. I forbade myself to see how many pairs of eyes were staring back at me and the cast. I vaguely remember Angela’s monologue at the very beginning and peeking out of my right eye to see whether the rest of the cast had walked off stage which would be my cue to begin my monologue.
And then…. nothing. Somehow I completely forgot about my anxiety and the words of my lines I have been rehearsing for weeks just spewed out coherently, thankfully. My eyes were still closed, of course, as they would be nearly 99% of the time the glasses were on my face (the only times I opened them to peek were to make sure I didn’t eat it on the stage when walking towards the edges, and to make sure my peers were out with me at specific times of the play). The moment of truth then happened at the end of my monologue when I would be forced to leave my aviators behind on the adirondack chairs to become the younger, before-recovery Mateo. I remember standing up, opening my eyes and spanning the crowd as I walked forward. “Hoooooooooollllllllyyyyyyyyyyy ssshhhhhhiiiiiiiiitttttttttttt” was all I could think as my head turned from left to right. I might as well have been in the Colosseum with all of the eyes of Rome directly on me
But then something strange happened which my wife would then discuss with me afterwards. The rest of the play became a blur and ended within, what seemed to be, a blink of an eye. I knew exactly what I needed to do at which scene and at what line. It wasn’t just because we rehearsed for weeks prior to the show. This felt different. My wife gave a theory that maybe it was because most of us have been acting a different life than who we truly are almost our entire lives. Acting on stage became second nature; acting became instinctual. Huh…
For those who didn’t know, I had no idea what was written by the other cast members which Melissa read from the “book of maps – now year book” at the end of the play. Needless to say, the aviators helped once again as I nearly cried from the immense amount of love and kindness that poured from the words my fellow cast members wrote to me. The words went straight to my heart where they will be for the entirety of my recovery.
Needless to say, the end of the play was surreal. I was incredibly grateful to see all the family and friends and even complete strangers. The play was taken so well! It apparently touched many of the lives that witnessed it! What an amazing thing to hear! My face could not stop smiling. We were given flowers and hugs and handshakes galore. Oh, and yes (humble brag alert), it was a little weird but very flattering to have been asked for an autograph by several audience members. I will be floating on a cloud for a very long time.
Personally, this project was a game changer. It was exactly what my recovery needed, especially post-discharge from intensive treatment. My only wish is to be able to perform this play again and again. Not because I want this experience to last a life time, which I do, but rather because I believe in the impact the message has on those who witness it.
I cannot say this enough. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you Laura, Dave, Laurel, Becka, Mel, Angela, Andrea, Jen, Kristi, Vanessa, Mehlville High School, Castlewood Treatment Center, and all of my chosen family, friends, and complete strangers who came to witness this incredible project. – Rahul (Mateo)