- “Keepin’ it 100”: Performing Recovery in Cleveland Public Theatre’s Y-Haven Project
In August 2010, fourteen recovering drug and alcohol addicts walked off a Cleveland bus and into a former church, which had recently been renovated into a rehearsal space. The eight African American and six white males, whose ages ranged from the mid-twenties to late-fifties, entered the studio and tentatively introduced themselves to the three teaching artists in their twenties who would collaborate in the act of creating a devised performance. After the initial greetings, silence filled the room until one of the teaching artists declared, “Give me a voice if you want to hear and I’ll show you a world that you need to see,” before waiting on the men to repeat this statement. As the banter between teaching artists and performers developed into a call and response, most participants grew more comfortable, although company member Ron Metz maintains that he continued to resist internally, thinking to himself: “Man, I didn’t come here to play games, I thought we were gonna get into some real shit.”
Chip Joseph assumed his position as Y-Haven executive director in 1993 and began to transform the facility from a transitional home that partnered with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) into a twelve-step treatment facility. When he assumed leadership of the organization, Joseph recognized that many of the individuals who funneled in and out of the building suffered from drug and alcohol addictions that prevented successful integration into new housing. Securing numerous grants from HUD, as well as state and national organizations, Joseph hired counselors, social workers, and therapists, transforming Y-Haven into a twelve-step treatment facility modeled on Minnesota’s Hazleden addiction treatment center. At the time of the 2010 performance, clinical director Terry Luria noted that 65 percent of the Y-Haven’s 133 residents were African American, 34 percent were white, and there was one Latino resident. The average age of Y-Haven’s residents was just over 40, but current inhabitants’ ages range from their early twenties to late sixties.
A twelve-step treatment program requires significant internal reflection, yet Joseph and Luria began to imagine extracurricular programming for Y-Haven in the summer of 1997, when Joseph attended a performance in a local park and discovered one of the facility’s residents weeping in the audience. As a long-time theatregoer, Joseph often visited Cleveland theatres, but says that this moment awakened him to the possibility that performance could provide a necessary link between Y-Haven residents and the communities in which they lived. He initiated conversations with Cleveland Public Theatre’s (CPT) founding director James Levin, who in 1998 began implementing the earliest variations of CPT’s Y-Haven Project. Levin’s initial productions involved weekly meetings with Y-Haven residents, who developed monologues that were staged for fellow occupants. Since that initial experiment, the performances have expanded considerably. The theatrical collaboration developed into a devised performance under the creative influence of CPT’s current artistic director Raymond Bobgan. By the mid-2000s, the production transformed into a forty-five-to-sixty-minute one-act play featuring a cast of ten to fourteen actors from the home performing an originally crafted [End Page 83] narrative with an operating budget of $15,000. The company performs a weekend of shows at CPT, including a benefit performance for Y-Haven donors, before embarking on a weeklong tour to Cleveland-area colleges and universities, juvenile-detention centers, and charitable organizations like the Salvation Army.
For over a decade, CPT has collaborated with Y-Haven’s substance-abuse addicts, sharing time, experience, and production resources in order to create a devised performance annually. Over 180 men of diverse age, ethnicity, education, profession, and theatrical experience have volunteered time away from their lives at the recovery facility, devoting up to twenty hours a week over three months alongside CPT teaching artists. This partnership has led to press and goodwill for CPT and Y-Haven alike. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has written numerous articles about the performances, and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, multiple state legislators, and former...