LAFAYETTE — Starting Wednesday, six women in recovery from their addiction will make their debut on stage to tell their own life stories of rock-bottom moments and hopeful futures in the production of “Off the Streets” at Theatre 810.
The production features nine, short sketches performed by clients of the Outreach Center for Women and Children’s addiction recovery treatment program and is part of the Recovery Academy, an ongoing collaboration between the center and The Plastic Theater of Lafayette.
“Each sketch is based on a story or an event in the women’s lives,” said Keith Dorwick, artistic director of The Plastic Theater and the production’s co-director. “The honesty of these pieces is so engaging because these women are not holding back.”
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. each night through Saturday at Theatre 810 at 810 Jefferson St. There is no charge, but donations will be shared by the Outreach Center and The Plastic Theater.
The project connects women in recovery to the power of the theater, said Dorwick, also an associate professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
“One of the things that happens to people who get in trouble on the streets is they face immense social pressures,” Dorwick said. “These pressures are often very damaging. They feel a huge loss in self-esteem and they don’t feel that they have anything to contribute. What I was thinking when I started this project was that theater is a great way to build people up.”
Dorwick received a grant of $3,400 from the Louisiana Division of the Arts and the Acadiana Center for the Arts to offer the clients theater workshops and produce a show. The sketches developed during improvisation and workshops led by Michael Cato, Josh Coen, Elaine Kibodeaux, Jody Powell and the Wanderlust Theatre Company.
Some of the sketches are humorous or inspirational, like one piece titled, “Miss Doris,” about one of the center residents who lived on the streets and, “You Can Be a Star, Lisa,” about one resident’s rediscovery of her faith in God and herself. Others are darker and portray events that pushed them to seek help.
Dolly Guidry, 48, of Houma, is one of the six clients in the cast.
“It’s a healing process for me because I can laugh at it,” Guidry said. “I could not do that at the time and me holding onto it, brings me misery. This is bringing up these painful memories, but it’s a way of helping me accept my past knowing I don’t have to continue living that way.”
Guidry, at the Outreach Center for two months, said the theater workshops have boosted her self-esteem.
“I feel worthy today. I started something and I’m completing it,” Guidry said.
The sketches aren’t scripted, allowing the women flexibility to tell their stories.
“The words may change from night to night, but the story is the same,” said Kibodeaux, who co-directed the production.
The improvisational exercises apply to life off stage, said Hope Martin, 35, of Morgan City, a resident at the Outreach Center.
“I’ve learned how if you mess up, how to catch up. How to let it flow,” she said.
The set is simple. A clothesline hangs at the rear of the stage. Two pillowcases and a fitted sheet hang on either end. In the middle of the line hangs a flat sheet that doubles as a screen for projected images that create a sense of place for the story about to take the stage.
The bedding hanging on the line — all in a soft shade of pink — also symbolizes something more: home.
“Sheets on a line mean you have a bed and you have a place to stay,” Dorwick said.
The Outreach Center for Women and Children is a transitional shelter that provides assistance to those in recovery from homelessness and it also offers a 90-day treatment program for those in addiction recovery. Those women who complete the recovery program can reside at the transitional shelter for another six months as they seek a job and save money for a place of their own, said Jill Meaux, the center’s executive director.
Meaux said she’s seen the women’s confidence grow during their rehearsals.
“It gave them confidence and the creativity to tell their story with dignity and celebrate their recovery,” Meaux said.
The cast also includes three actors: Michael Cato, Steven Cooper and Jan Erin Corzo.
Outreach Center client Lisa Welch, 47, shared the stage with Corzo, in a sketch that reveals the burden Welch placed on one of her children.
“Through all this, it helped me to open up to the pain that I’ve caused others. To see it acted out, it makes me realize what I did do and I don’t want to be that person again,” Welch said. She wiped tears from her face. “It’s helping me.”
The women said their stories on the stage will inspire others.
“I would hope that they walk away with hope that life does get better if you’re willing to take action,” Guidry said.