The Normal Girl On Stage

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“What’s the point of entering a room if you’re not going to light it up?”

I improvised this question during one of our first rehearsals for UnMasqued. I was trying to be funny. And I also wasn’t. My goal in every situation has been to light up the room, to be memorable. Otherwise, I’d risk being forgotten, not cared about. I imagined myself in a spotlight, all eyes on me. Would I perform? Or would everyone get bored and walk out? Either way, I would be alone. Disconnected.

Connection is essential to eating disorder recovery. And making art has been essential to mine. Over the last two months, I’ve thrown myself into the process of creating UnMasqued, telling my and witnessing my peers’ stories over and over through the container of metaphor. This took trust—trust that the group could hold these often painful stories, trust that the metaphor would read on stage, trust that my world would not come crashing down if I stood in front of a hundred people and admitted to them how hard I try to be special, and my wish for permission to be a “normal girl.”

Over the last two months, the astounding group that put this show together listened, laughed, cried (sobbed), disagreed, Got to Work, and found a level of connection that still has me floored a day after closing UnMasqued. I was scared by the disagreements for a while—conflict doesn’t light up the room. But, occasionally, it would electrify it. Again, I had to hold on to trust. The conflict was normal, workable, and brought us closer together. By tech week I was periodically taking a beat to reflect on how breathtakingly close I felt to the cast and team, and how much I trusted them.

Over the last two months, our group has shrunk as it lost members. And it has grown. It’s grown into a wild woman Wolfpack that gently guided me to the realization that I will be loved as a normal girl, cared for ”when I light up the room and in my dark corners,” as Laura told me opening night. During one performance, I began to cry during my monologue in which I pleaded for that permission to be a normal girl. They were tears of grief over the loss of the girl who lights up every room, the girl who put so much pressure on me every day. At the end of that monologue, my sorority sister Rory was there to lovingly ask me, “what if you could be normal, and be okay?”

I still don’t know the answer to that. Maybe I don’t need to. Today, I am okay with that.

To the cast and team, my Wolfpack… I’ll try every day to find the words to describe how grateful I am.

Yours in normalcy,
Annie P

My Exodus Came Early

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I am currently sitting in an airport less than 24 hours after our closing show and I am off to an environment that is less than ideal and with people that oppress my humanness, but even with that on the forefront of my mind, I am still sitting here on a complete high. But the high that I am feeling is very much a new and different kind of high, and truth be told, I think it is the best type of high I have ever felt. It’s the high from life. From getting to work and having something amazing come from that hard work. It is a high from the power of un-masquing night after night and a high from the vulnerability of my wolf pack and a high from this journey and process we have all been on together and a high from being so supported, loved and cared for by a crew of amazing support staff and a high from what this project of Recovery Through Performance has meant to me and a high from allowing every part of me, even the parts of me I want to hide— be seen and heard and validated through the eyes of the witness. And more than anything I am on a high because despite all the negativity that lives in my head on a daily basis— I am saying enough. I am saying this is my high and the negativity that tries to control me will not take this away from me. This is mine and I am working too hard to not let those negative destructive thoughts have as much power over me as they once did. So today I am letting myself bask in the glory that this high I have built and created is mine.

Tonight I will be celebrating the first night of Passover with my entire family. We will be sitting at a table for hours on hours drinking and eating and singing and speaking and processing and witnessing the story of how the Jewish people left slavery from Egypt many years ago. Every year during this time of year as we process the journey of our ancestors that have come before us, we also take a minute to process the journey we are on to our very own freedom and Exodus. Sometimes I stay up all night at the Passover Seder or I let all eight days of the holiday go by and I still don’t have a clear answer to what my freedom looks like to me. I usually sit at the Seder and I feel compelled to draw from everyone else’s experiences of freedom and redemption to create my own. I listen to my brothers describe their freedom and what they want to leave behind and somehow I mirror the concepts that they have brought forward to create my own freedom.

But this year is different and it is not just because they are different and will offer the group and myself a different perspective on freedom, but it is because I am different. Yes, me. I feel blessed beyond blessed to be entering into this less than ideal environment and to already know what my freedom is for me. This Passover and this trip is about a lot more than just the observance of a holiday. It is about taking all that I have built, all that I have gained, all that I have processed, and all that I have witnessed with me. And not just taking it all with me, but also keeping it safe inside of me.

My freedom is real and my freedom is big and my freedom is loud and my freedom will not stop here. The journey of UnMasqued and Recovery Through Performance has been my journey to freedom. I am excited to walk in to the Passover Seder tonight and to be a step ahead of everyone else because my freedom came early this year. But the best part of my freedom this year is a couple different things that have really come together. I think first and foremost I am so happy that the freedom I am sitting with came from me and not someone else telling me what to feel or do or say. I am happy that the freedom I have created is not fleeting because I have all the tools and transitional objects to hold onto this freedom over the next eight days. I know that I can and will hold onto this freedom for as long as it will let me, and the longer I hold to it the stronger I will get.

My freedom has evolved during this process and I also want to say that I don’t think I walked in feeling unfree— but to me I have seen that my freedom has evolved when I take off my masque that I hide behind. I had no idea how much power was in me and how much anger needed to be let out. But as I UnMasqued every rehearsal and every show since February I have come to understand that the need for my own personal freedom with my own permission and allowance is finally here.

The interesting thing to me is that I had no idea that what I was needing was freedom. But the cool thing is that every night of the show that freedom looked differently for me and my character Helen Baldwin. I very much found the medicine, as Laura Wood calls it, in therapeutic theater and took what I need to take out of it that night. Yes, the concepts and themes that were needed to help the plot and storyline continue were there, but every night I found room for freedom and redemption. Some nights it looked like standard in terms of what the script originally called for and sometimes it spoke to my own journey for what I needed to take from the play. I think finding this freedom was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Because through the freedom and this character I found a voice and permission to say and do the things that I have wanted to do for so long, but was never given a platform. UnMasqued gave me the platform to break all the rules and expectations and limitations that others as well as myself have been placing on me. UnMasqued taught me the strength and power that I have inside me.

But with freedom you must also recognize and validate that when you become free you also need to release and let go of the things in life that make you feel trapped. So for me as I enter into Passover tonight I want to enter with an open and free mind. So as I let more time pass since closing of the show there are a couple last things I want to let go of that continuously make me feel trapped. I want to release this idea that I need to purge to communicate. I want to release this idea that I can’t ask others to help me meet my needs. I want to release the shame and guilt I feel about needing to wear a masque or play a role to make me feel safe. I want to release the child in me that is scared to be in this new environment. And more than anything I want to release that part of me that says I can’t.

But as I hear all the things that keep me stuck, all I want to say is… this is my permission to release. This is my allowance to be me. This is my own voice to use. And this is my freedom to explore.

The way I look at all of this is kind of like a good cup of coffee or what my wolf pack would say- it is more like a good Gatorade. Once you have a fresh cup from the original Starbucks in Pike Place market in Seattle, WA, or you have a fresh cold light blue Gatorade from the Seven Eleven on the Lower East Side on a hot summer day— you simply realize that this is bliss. So I understand it as when you have these experiences and you taste how good something can be then how after you taste it I wonder how you could ever fully go back to what life was like before this bliss. That is how I feel about what I am sitting with right now. I, Lieba, have a taste of freedom and release. I have a taste of how incredibly beautiful it is to have self-discovery and how beautiful it is to have that be witnessed by others. Just because I know what freedom tastes like doesn’t mean that it will always be available to me. I can’t always get coffee in Seattle and I cant always get Gatorade from Seven Eleven, but what I can do is hold on to the memory, the taste, the smell and know that one day I will be back.

I am going to ride this wave of freedom and empowered voices and allowance of Lieba to be in self-discovery for as long as I possibly can, but when the freedom gets mixed up with the stresses of normal life, I will remember that I am in control and I capable and I can bring myself back to that freedom anytime I want. All I have to do is close my eyes, touch my boss human elbows, open my hands wide to witness and remember that I am in control of allowing and giving myself permission to be a free human being.

Happiness, Acceptance & Pride

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A role I tend to play in life is “know it all.” Yes, I understand and fully know that there is always room to grow in this world, but what I mean when I say “know it all” is that when I understand something, I feel like I tend to close myself off from learning anything else about whatever the thing is that I have now come to understand. This comes up in relationships, in school, in internship, and in therapy. When I get it— I think I get it and that is the end of the story. But what I love about Recovery Through Performance is that this idea of getting something and closing myself off to learning and growing has been challenged.

The journey of UnMasqued has taught me to understand that no matter how many times I think I get something or understand it, there is always so much more for me to learn.

After the first week of rehearsal, I thought I understood the concept of therapeutic theater. To me, it was just like playing a role and maybe saying something personal along the way. The role you play serves as kind of like this “bridge” between the theater part and the therapy part. In my mind, the concept of therapeutic theater was very simple and easy to understand as well as apply.
But what I am learning is that therapeutic theater is not just about it being simple and easy to understand. It’s about the process and the journey and the growing and the developing that comes with this journey.

Last night, as UnMasqued opened for the public, I felt like I let myself open up again to the option that maybe therapeutic theater is more than just what I have accepted it as.

Last night, as I played the intense role of Helen Baldwin who holds this idea of “false recovery” for the cast, I realized that me playing this role and standing on stage is literally doing therapy in public. There were moments last night where I was saying lines and I honestly felt like I could have had the same conversation with someone so close to my heart. As we closed the show last night, and I sat on stage next to a group of women that have been through it all with me, and I took off my “masque,” I just cried. I cried because this moment was real. This moment was present. This moment was so beyond healing. This moment was being witnessed by people that have known me since birth and by people that have known me for an hour. This is a moment I want to never forget because it changed the way I look at this process and all the work I have been putting in to my recovery over the past ten years. The crazy part for me was the fact that I have read the closing monologue of the show so many times, but last night as I sat there and everyone around me played the role of the witness, I took part in therapeutic theater.

Crying on stage in front of strangers and my best friends all at one time is probably one of the scariest, most amazing things I could ever think about doing. But as I sat on stage in that moment and felt all that emotion I knew I was going to be okay. And this idea of “okay” was a new feeling for me. I somehow knew that 100 people were staring at me and waiting for me to talk, but I knew I could handle this moment. I could handle this moment of imperfection and humanness. Because to me, in that moment last night, as I let myself feel with a full heart, I walked away feeling no shame. Of course I woke up with that little voice in my head today that expressed how embarrassed of myself I should be today and the coming days for crying and being so vulnerable like that in front of so many. And even in the moment as I sat on stage and I could not see very many people in the audience because of the stage lights— I could see Laura Wood. So I locked eyes with her and opened my heart. In that moment, I had two thoughts in my head, one being that she hates me for crying on stage because I have ruined her show and these tears were not in the script, or that she is with me and proud of me and rooting for me with her entire being. I closed my eyes and I decided to go with the second thought. Because the second thought is humanness and real and growth and something that I needed to have witnessed. So much of my journey has been about struggling to cry and then bring myself back into reality after the tears. I struggle with letting myself revert back to a child-cry many times thinking that when I cry this will be the last time I will ever cry again. This is kind of like a binge in the sense that sometimes when I used to eat I thought I needed to eat more then normal because this was the last time I could eat for a week. But last night was different. Last night was what we call an “adult cry” and I don’t think I have ever done such a thing like that in my life before. I don’t think I have ever cried and felt and been present and transitioned all at the same time. I have never felt like it was possible for me, but sometimes its about letting the moment happen and realizing you are ready open yourself up to learning and understand something new.

So yeah, when I think about last night and the tears and the vulnerability, I sit with happiness and acceptance and pride because last night I was a witness and an active participant to therapeutic theater.

My Bridge Over Troubled Water

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Sometimes you are ready for level two and sometimes level two just happens to you. I believe that life is about a level system, but different then the level system that happens when someone is in treatment. When you are in treatment, the levels are about finishing one and graduating to the next and making sure you are fully ready to move on and up-the entire process is full of so much rigidity and fear. But I think we all know that this is not reality and this is very much not how life works. Sometimes we are given things in life that push us on up in a level before we are ready to graduate and go up on our own. This idea that I express very much feels like a true depiction of my experience with this process and journey through the story of UnMasqued.

I joined Recovery Through Performance feeling as though I had my recovery very much in the bag. In fact, on day one I came in and admitted to the group that I felt as if I could not relate to their stories and I expressed that I felt like I was unsure about being in the show because I did not “have” an Eating Disorder anymore. It is crazy to me that these words came out of my mouth just three short months ago. I sit here about to enter performance week and I feel so full. Yes, I usually feel full of food, but this time the fullness is so much more than just from a bagel and cream cheese. It is the type of fullness that you never want to let go of. This fullness alludes to the amazement, and inspiration, and strength, and gratitude and so much more that I feel from this process and the rad humans that I have been blessed to get to know. This process has given me so much more than just hope for my recovery, but it has given me a direction and a path that I hope to follow one day.

I am currently in school for Social Work here in NYC, and I have always known that I wanted to be a clinical psychodynamic therapist. I guess you can say that I kind of came out of the womb helping others, literally. My seemingly random initiation of an early birth alerted doctors to the fact that my twin brother was struggling to survive. Had I not inadvertently spurred an early delivery, he would have died. Ever since then, I’ve always been drawn to the idea of connection through supporting others. For many years I felt like Social Work was my destination and the goal of my life’s work. But as I went through this process, and as I watched what was in front of me, and as I get ready for this incredible weekend of performances, it has become clear to me that my dream and life’s work will not end with a Masters in Social Work. I don’t know how, or when, or even why, but I do know that I feel so beyond compelled to explore this direction of Lieba as a drama therapist. I love the bridge of drama therapy. The bridge between classic “clinical talk therapy” which I am being trained in daily and the work of incorporating your body in to that process of talk therapy. If there is one thing that I have learned through this process, it is that my body wants to be present. It wants to sit big and laugh with a full heart and speak about more than just “feeling fat”. It wants to run on stage and open doors and go all in. I loved interacting with drama therapy and learning a new modality to go about my work with my clients. If nothing else, I am thankful to this project and the leaders for showing me the beauty in something I have always wanted, but never knew that I was capable of going after.

I feel like I surrendered to this process and literally “got to work”. It was not easy, and time and time again I crafted the email to send to Laura Wood that says, “I quit. I can’t do this. I am not strong enough. I am not good enough. I don’t know how to act. I don’t know how to be in a show about my life’s biggest vulnerable.” But the crazy part is at the end of the day I decided to push through all that self-doubt and walk away from the send button. I pushed past pain and vulnerability and guilt and shame and self-hate and doubt and so much more. I pushed past everything in me that was telling me no, no, no, and then I responded by saying, Lieba go, go, go. This process was about letting myself do something that was unclear at the beginning; we had no idea how and if this play would work out. I did not know how I would get over the next hurdle that was in front of me through this process. I did not know how it would work with living over an hour away from rehearsal, or having flights booked to be in Portland, Oregon the weekend of performances, or having to navigate around religious observance, or the dialectic of two groups with opposing philosophies— but the crazy part is that after all that and everything in me telling me to walk away from it all… it ended up working out and surpassing any expectation I walked in with. I was able to make it work and find my humanness and grow and grow and grow to be the best Lieba I can be.

The show is not about this coming weekend and the end result that the audience sees as they walk through the door. This weekend is about taking off the masques physically and emotionally that I have been suffocating under for almost a decade. This weekend is about wearing a hot pair of pants and fucking owning my body in it. This weekend is about being so proud of the women that I stand on stage with and are no longer just my cast, but some of my best friends. This show is about doing everything that I have been told not to do for my entire life and doing it anyway. I was told don’t yell, so I yell. I was told don’t swear, so I swear. I was told don’t point, so I point. I was told don’t wear pants, so I wear pants. I was told don’t be vulnerable, so I am vulnerable. Doing what I want and using my voice in all the power that it has is healing. It is healing to not listen to the expectations of what society, or religion, or this Eating Disorder wants from me is beyond words. I am so beyond excited to walk on that stage on Thursday and take back the power and so much more that I have let everyone else in my life dictate for way too long at this point.

I sit here in my bed writing and thinking and exploring and I as I do those things I listen to Simon and Garfunkel in the background. S and G have been a source of inspiration and a running theme through this process. I listen to the words of Bridge Over Troubled Water and I am beyond moved because I am not sure how Simon and Garfunkel had any idea how to express my experience in Recovery Through Performance, but as I listen and smile and think I am overwhelmed by the accuracy of lyrics. The song articulates more authentically what this experience has been for me than sometimes I am able to articulate myself. The songs open up with a very clear image in my mind… It says when you’re weary, and feeling small it…. and this to me is what my personal demon of the Eating Disorder wants for me. It wants me to conform and not feel big and not take up space and not light up a room with a character full of life. But the process of UnMasqued has shut that down and not let the Eating Disorder get what it wants from me. The song continues with, when tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all… and I think a reality that is important to express is that this has not been a “dry” process for me in any way. The amount of tears I have cried and wine I have drunk through this process is larger than life, but the amazing thing is that the support around me and my fellow cast mates in this project has never made me feel alone with those tears in my eyes. Tears are healthy and good and growth comes from that moment of a good cry. Sometimes even a wailing “child cry” was necessary, but from that only came more growth and more self-discovery. The last line I want to reflect on from Bridge Over Troubled Water is, I’m on your side… and to me that’s the point of this play. That is this process. That is the dynamic with the cast and the directors and the support staff. We are on your side. We are on “your” side. I am not sure if Simon and Garfunkel fully knew what they would be eluding to in Bridge Over Troubled Water, but I can honestly say that UnMasqued and Recovery Through Performance at large has been my bridge over troubled water.

When I got on board for this journey I had no idea if I was ready. I had no idea if I could make it. I had no idea what this level of recovery and vulnerability would look like. But as I sit here knowing that everything will be over in less than a week and all I will be left with is my memories and bunch of old copies of the script… I smile. I smile because I did it. I did not walk away. I did not give in to the voices that said no, no, no. I moved up and on before knowing if I was ready to handle this level. I let myself really struggle up that ladder, but the best part was learning to ask for help when I needed a push to the next step. The help I received in this process was nothing like I have seen before. It consisted of women who just wanted to keep pushing and supporting and growing, no matter what. They would stretch and stretch to support me so that I never had to fall.

The beautiful thing is that as we all go in different directions at the end of the weekend as the performances come to an end, I know that even when they stop stretching to hold me up-I can do this. And it’s not because I am a boss or anything special or above average, but it is all because I am a normal girl and I am doing the best I can to just be human.

And I guess after all that, I did it and I am doing it, and I will keep doing it.

— LSB

UnMasqued!

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UnMasqued, set within the Sorority of Epsilon Delta Tau, follows the journey of six women. Though all women are members of the organization of Epsilon Delta Tau, these unique sisters explore, individually and collectively, the boundaries of the sorority- of themselves- of life- and of coming into authentic humanness. This journey through word, dance, and song, that the sorority sisters of Epsilon Delta Tau find themselves within, displays multiplicity, polarization, depth, and relation. With many genuine moments of struggle, laughter, pain, and realness, we invite you to come witness UnMasqued, an original play co created by Laura Wood, Dave Mowers, and the 2017 cast members of Recovery Through Performance.

The Leading Lady

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What do Rose Dewitt-Buktater, Bella Swan, Scarlett O’Hara, Vivian Ward, and Carrie Bradshaw all have in common? Aside from being smart, effortlessly beautiful, and charming, each of these women fall under the category of “the leading lady.” They’re the protagonists, the heroines, the heart and soul of their individual films. What would The Titanic be without Rose and her iconic love story? Vivian Ward was the Pretty Woman. And Carrie Bradshaw, of course, was the glue that held the Sex and the City gals
together. Would Charlotte, Samantha, and Miranda ever have discovered the Cosmopolitan if it wasn’t for her guidance? I think not. These leading ladies are the women who get the guy in the end. They’re the focal point of the movie posters and theatrical trailers. We’re highly invested in them and their stories.

Often we forget that behind every leading lady is a devoted sidekick. The best friend. She (or he) may not have as many wardrobe changes or lines of dialogue, but she is crucial to the story in an entirely different way. The best friend is the source of comic relief. She is reliable and a constant support system for the leading lady to fall back on when chaos ensues. Her unconditional support for the protagonist is what allows her to go on all of her protagonisty (yes, protagonisty) adventures. At times, the best friend can be self deprecating. She rarely ends up with her own happily ever after because she’s too busy sacrificing her own needs for those of others. However, she still manages to grace the movie screen with a smile any chance she gets.

As a little girl, I saw the world through lenses where people fit into one of two categories: the leading ladies or the best friends. I felt early on that I was best suited as a trusty sidekick since I had always identified closely with the supporting roles in my favorite fairytales. I was the jester of my royal family, always easing any tension with a joke or five. My sorority sisters deemed me the “Pepto Bismol” of our chapter, because I have an uncanny ability to neutralize any tense situation. I possess the gift of setting people at ease and well…care-taking. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the more I told myself that I wasn’t leading lady material, the more it became my reality. I was the best friend, never the girlfriend- the bridesmaid, never the bride. Needless wantless. I found myself in relationships with people where I did the giving and rarely reaped the benefits. I never knew things could be any different.

Recovery Through Performance opened my eyes to a whole new way of existing in the world. When I received my first draft of the script and peaked at the cast list, I had a visceral reaction. The play was called Twin Falls and I had been cast as one of the twins. Did that mean…no, no it couldn’t. Was I a lead role? Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m aware that this play doesn’t have true designated lead roles. However, as I leafed through the script more thoroughly, I came to the realization that I was going to be on the stage for the majority of the play. I had a significant amount lines and great deal of the plot revolved around my character, Sylvia. When I came to this conclusion, I immediately felt apologetic. It was intolerable to sit with the fact that I was going to have to take up this much space and be a focal point for the audience. I wanted to leap back into my best friend comfort zone. I had gotten so used to dimming my light so that others could shine. I didn’t know what on earth (EARTH!? WE’RE ON EARTH?) the next couple of weeks would bring.

As the Recovery Through Performance process continued, I truly began to connect to Sylvia on her emotionally freeing and inspirational journey. I could feel myself becoming more and more open to the idea of this leading lady way of life. Having the support of the other cast members as I navigated this unchartered territory was such a gift. They helped hold up the mirror for me and see things in myself that I never knew were there. I began to think, “What if I had actually been leading lady material all this time but was simply behaving like the best friend?” What if smart, assertive, lovable Sylvia has been inside of me all along?” That thought is equal parts terrifying and exciting. It means that the old narrative I’ve been living by for the past 24 years was never supposed to be mine. That somehow there was a mix up, and as a little girl, I got the idea that I wasn’t supposed to shine when really, I have enough light to fill an entire room. I guess this would mean that I could finally come out of the wings and make my way to center stage in my own life. I could take more risks, tell people how I really feel about them, find new things I’m passionate about, and allow myself to really be human.

-Cody F

Hope Through Grief

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Sitting in the audience early last November as the first play came to an end, my heart was racing. My friend Becka, who was with me in the beginning of my journey in St. Louis, who had seen me in crushing despair, who also had struggled intensely, was now standing on that stage hand in hand gleaning a standing ovation from the audience. And it filled me with pride and hope. I didn’t want it to be over. The buzz of the crowd and the energy in the room was intoxicating. A sea of people, people I knew and loved, of strangers, of people that had seen me in my worst and watched me grow. All these people on my journey. The aura in the room was overwhelming hope, encouragement and perseverance, excitement and joy. I cried because it was so overwhelming and also because I had this still knowing that the next time it would be my turn. I didn’t know how or when, but there it was in my gut heavy like a stone grounding me to the earth.

8 months later I walked into our first rehearsal. I had heard stories of the first plays rehearsals, of how hard they were. Really I had no idea what was to come. Painful and empowering are the two words that come to mind. I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of this cast and have this gift of opportunity to see each one of them grow in ways I didn’t expect, not because I didn’t think they were capable, but because this process is geared to surprise you. I’ve done a lot of theatre and I’ve never experienced anything remotely close to this. It’s inspiring.
The significance of this play holds double meaning for me. The first being, my character and her journey parallel my life outside the play. I’m learning how to stand on my own two feet and trust myself. For the first time I’m being in the world in true adult form, going to school for psychology and theatre and building relationships in ways I never have before. It’s both terrifying and exciting.
When we first we’re given the scripts a couple weeks ago I looked over the cast/character list.
Who was I going to be? What story was written for me? Part of the really neat thing about this project is that each character in the play embodies something or works through something we are personally struggling with.
After the first cold read through I had no idea what had happened. I was so caught up in trying to decipher my character while simultaneously trying to read my lines and not my casted twin sister’s who’s name, in classic twin form, is very similar.
After a few days it finally sunk in. I have a lead roll in this play. I struggled to accept that because I felt like more of a sidekick to my bossy twin but as my character grew and gained depth over the intensive weekend I began to understand her. And better understand myself. And now towards the end of this process, with the performance fast coming up, I’m feeling ready to embody her, not only on stage but in my life.

But like I said before this play holds a second meaning, it marks a significant loss of sorts. At the end, when the curtain closes and we have one last cast party, Laura Wood is leaving for her next big adventure in New York. And as much as I’d like to deny that that has been a huge struggle through out this play, during our intensive weekend I couldn’t deny it anymore.
After meeting Dave Mowers, an incredibly gifted, warm and inspiring theatre director, working so intensely with him over the weekend and then on Sunday evening turning around and saying goodbye, it was a mini high speed version of what was yet to come. And I cried the whole way home. Funny because my tears felt like a surprise to me. But it was just grief slowly widdleing it’s way out of me.
You see what I’m learning as I trudge through recovery is that it’s not pretty. I can’t pick and choose what I want to feel. There is an adage that we hear a lot, “it’s not all or nothing”. However I think in some ways recovery is…. It’s all the feelings. All of them. Happy, sad, angry, joy, fear.. Bored… Lonely… Grief.
The harder I tried to push the grief away the more it interfered with my ability to be present and creative.
In a lot of ways I am Stevia, my character. I’m learning what it means to he human. Even though of course I was born a human and have been one for 31 years, it’s just as new to me as it is for her. Living without my eating disorder, with all my feelings and trying to find connection in the world is really scary.

But just like that still knowing I had in my gut at the end of last play I have another growing within me, that just like my character, I embody empathy, compassion, strength and the courage to take risks. And I’m ready to stand on my own two feet and experience the world for myself and not through my eating disorder.

-River

Through the Woods

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2 weeks till the curtain draws (is that what they say in theatre?) My feelings about “7 on the 7th” (7pm on Aug. 7th) and what we’ve, as a cast, still to do are similar to day one of this whole thing: excited, nervous, and sooo curious. I am surprised and thrilled for how much I care and how powerful this process has been for my personal world.

Upon finding out there was a recovery play happening, I thought first: That would support and supplement my recovery efforts…hello Laura Wood!; secondly, I thought: I don’t have time, nor do I want to be in a play, not for me; third thought: It’s a chance to be with people, maybe connect, I need that… Plus, group with Laura Wood, c’mon! This is why I stayed in St. Louis; fourth & final: Ehhh, I’m not sure…

Many thanks to my friend, River, I showed up; for what, I wasn’t quit sure. As cool as I tried to play it, I was excited, nervous, and so curious. How does this work? When I found out at the first ‘rehearsal’ that this entire process is actually for Laura’s dissertation, I was blown away. Feelings of being honored to be part of it, curious how it’d work, confused why I’d not heard, and feeling used and manipulated were an undercurrent to the gratitude for it, as a whole, and the joy I felt to be sitting in a room with several other people that ‘get it’. (disclaimer: used and manipulated is my stuff; in no way was I actually manipulated nor do I feel used. It has been an honor and I am beyond measure grateful to be part of Twin Falls…and larger scale, to participate in the research and energy to help people with eating disorders.)

Deciding to commit to the project, I envisioned diving “all-in” for the process, but I held back. I protected myself from losing perspective of the scene. I hold distance; keep an outsider’s observant eye. It doesn’t feel safe to do it any other way, to lose myself in a situation sometimes called connection. In the real world, I can’t afford to be so stupid.

I’ve watched the group show up every rehearsal, and they are long, intensive evening/nights. I’ve watched the group be silly together, be real together, be happy for one another and feel the pain, the anger, the fear, and the hope for one another. It’s been nothing short of a truly incredible, potentially perspective-shifting, gift every step of the way. The nights I didn’t want to show up and went anyway. The exercises I didn’t want to do and did anyway. The character I didn’t want to accept and took anyway. The outfit I don’t want to wear and might wear anyway. Somewhere along the way, I’ve become part of this group. I still hold perspective of the scene, except when I am in character. I cannot explain it more than this: Belle does exactly what I do by keeping an outside eye on the scene. When I am Belle, I lose my perspective of reality. My reality is her reality and she holds the energy for both of us. It has been a long time since I have felt as connected or at-ease within a group of people in the real world.

There are no words to adequately describe the power and presence of growth and potential happening right now in Recovery Through Performance. I was a hopeful skeptic of this endeavor from day one. I needed something big to shake my rocky recovery into transformation. Life, as I know it, is being rocked. I am having feelings for people that I am getting to know. Simultaneously I am allowing myself to mourn a life I am letting go. It is not black and white, not all or nothing, but there is movement, and my perspective is growing a bit more with each step forward. A saying we’ve heard often from Laura is, “Yes, and…” What if I lived life more like that? Yes, and… Yes, I like your idea and… Yes, I want to go with you and… Yes, I’d love to meet for dinner and… Yes, I will answer your question and… Yes, I will cover your shift and… Yes, I will try something new and… Yes, even though I’m scared and…

Twin Falls is about perseverance and connection. It is about falling and taking the risk to get back up. It is about trusting the journey and trusting each other. It is about not just finding a community, but building community.

The coolest part about it, from my perspective, is that what is being acted on stage parallels what’s happening off-stage… not just for the cast, but I believe for anyone brave enough to wholly participate in life. Because no matter who you are or what your story is, you know what it feels like to fall. In this performance, that simple reality becomes the multi-faceted, complex and complicated journey of acceptance, pain, connection, and a window into the other side.

Katie S.

The Second Time Around

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Seriously…. It feels like it’s been seven years, give or take, since we performed I Remember Justine. But really, it’s only been eight months. A lot has changed. I have changed. My recovery has changed. Now, we are in the midst of rehearsing another play, Twin Falls, to give to the world our views of recovery and post-treatment transition into the “real world.” And honestly, everything seems vastly different since I Remember Justine. Everything except for the presence of group strength, courage, and unbelievable creativity. Let me fill you in on a little secret: take a handful of kind-hearted, strong adults that have been through so much their entire lives, put them into a room with an incredible drama therapist (some names that come to the top of my mind include Laura Wood and Dave Mowers for example), and what transpires is a powerhouse of near-tangible energy that becomes molded into a beautiful and vibrant collage of courage, strength, creativity, and wonder from the human mind.

I was asked my thoughts and feelings about the switch from Mateo, the main character in I Remember Justine, to more supportive roles in Twin Falls, while witnessing the growth of others in our current project. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t feel at first a slight tinge of jealousy! The cloud nine high I rode after the last performance was otherworldly! But as Dave and Laura had expressed in our weekend intensive rehearsals, with progressing from the work in the first project, it was now time to allow others to take center stage. My prior cast mate and I, both now participating in round two of Laura’s research, would become the parental figures or mentors to a new group of cast as they learn the process of Recovery Through Performance as well as their expressive capabilities on stage. I realized I was now fulfilling a different capacity for the project. As such, this was a different kind of joy I was feeling.

I am witnessing the growth, spirit, and strength of new and old friends during my second participation. And honestly, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m now able to see other side of the equation with Twin Falls. Before, I was constantly on my feet rehearsing lines, sculpting the character, creating vivid back stories, figuring out what emotions I’m trying to embody and the elicit from others. Now, I get to observe other main characters as they rehearse and explore their boundaries with acting and expressing their roles. Holding that energy and being there for support is extremely gratifying and honoring. And yes, it’s still hard as hell rehearsing the supportive roles I play! But being able to witness the other group members acting extremely powerful and emotional roles is incredible. I have already been laughing, grieving, smiling, surprised, and saddened just watching the rehearsals! I can only imagine what I will be feeling during the next couple weeks going forward including the live performance.

Our pace has been very quick as we are working with a very tight schedule. Rehearsing twice a week is actually better for me as I am able to fully immerse myself into the process without getting behind due to stagnation or losing the energy that was produced from the prior rehearsal. Last time, we were together once a week up until the last few weeks prior to performance when the meetings became more regular. My mind believes we just started rehearsals for Twin Falls but yet we go live in less than three weeks! Even though the timeline for I Remember Justine was much longer, I remember it ending too soon because I just wanted to keep performing and seeing the close knit group weekly because outside of rehearsing the play, the project became extremely helpful and supportive to my recovery process. I’m finding that with Twin Falls, the feeling of attachment is the same. I do remember Laura expressing the parallel between the creation and then loss of I Remember Justine to the beginning and end to relationships in the “real world.” Attachments are absolutely difficult to navigate for anyone. Having to lose one that meant so much is painful beyond words. I am learning that it’s imperative to focus and truly experience what is going on now and savor all that I can.

And yet, It is hard to focus on the here and now knowing that this will be the last time I work with Laura Wood on a full project. I Remember Justine changed my life less than a year ago and now Twin Falls has been giving me new perspectives and growth in my current stage in recovery. I’ve never been able to be a part of something so incredible, ground breaking, and inspiring as these two projects. I will hold them forever in my heart and will never forget the impact everyone, cast and crew together, has had on my life. It was hard to say goodbye last November. It will be even harder to say goodbye this August.

-Rahul M

Post Performance and Why Aviators Help Anxiety

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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)