The Leading Lady

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 vivian-leigh-394441_1280Titanic 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 girlfriends-338449_640sidekick 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 hedy-lamarr-111272_640more 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

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.
HOPE-street-sign18 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 intensivb3094da7ab37e0ae428cc9d862800a03e 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 4863342645_62a5013cf0like 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.


Through the Woods

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.

bird_1513295cI’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

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 colour-pencils-450621_640unbelievable 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.

theater-105574_1280I 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 processangel-348951_640 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.

landscape-732367_640And 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

So the opening performance of I Remember Justine has now ended and I am happy to flyer-coverhear 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!

1300466072304When 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 heart-shaped-fluffy-cloudfamily 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)

The Privilege of Being a Part

_DSC4508The privilege of being a part of “I Remember Justine…” has certainly afforded me the opportunity to push the boundaries of my recovery in several ways.  One uncomfortable moment was having to ask for a smaller role in the play because I had recently undertaken a big life commitment in going back to school and I did not feel I could devote the necessary time to the production.  This was mortifying.  I can’t do it all.  I’m not perfect.  But then I realized (with some prodding from Laura,) I am doing what I need to take care of myself and prioritize my life’s work.  This was my mantra for several of the weeks the cast was rehearsing while I was home studying.  I had to be reminded of this informed decision I made the other night at rehearsal.   I felt really guilty not being more a part of the production.  I had seen such growth in my cast mates I was so proud them.  But what about me?  What had I done to push my recovery in this process?  It made me feel very sad.  So sad I was in tears.  Yet again I was comforted by Laura’s words.  Look for my own recovery learning point: balance.  Balance! Something I can take away from this experience.  I need to continue to work on balance in my life so I can embark on a multitude of things I want to do at any given time and not feel boxed in by one commitment.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  It doesn’t have to be me feeling guilty for doing what I was capable of doing in those moments.  It’s about taking care of myself by having balance in my life.  That’s recovery right there!

-Post by Melissa Franolich

It is not about the Acting, It is about the Recovery

Dear readers,
Yes, I remember Justine, is a performance but it is not about the acting: it is about IMG_0371people who are in recovery coming together to create a play act in to foster growth of their own process: being in their bodies, getting connected to themselves through learning from the characters they play, connecting to each other, and the community at large.
It’s about standing before the community to say this is me taking a risk, doing something new or different that I couldn’t have done if I was deep in my eating disorder.
For all of us involved, we have has moments of fear in this project. I share this video with you, because it speaks to why we must do this show:

I hope you will join us as witnesses.

20 Days Until Showtime! But Who’s Counting?

The cast and crew are busy and excited as we prepare for the big show!  Rehearsals are action packed, and our brains are the-grand-theatrebursting with memorized lines!  This author is truly learning the experience of incorporating recovery processes into theater with intensity and purpose.  There is a sense of value from each others’ input and creativity as we work together to bring to life something this world has never seen before.  Each character is driven with a back story and in depth meaning not just as a whole, but also line by line.  Recovery is a life long journey and is never perfect.  Our work, with the guidance of Laura, Dave, and Laurel, will hopefully inspire many and also show that no one is alone in their recovery.