Performance to tackle substance use, dependence through arts

Credit: Brett Turner

Credit: Brett Turner

Substance abuse and dependence aren’t necessarily what one would associate with the arts.

An original new theatrical experience will counter that notion showing several sides of the subjects in entertaining and thoughtful ways.

“Attention Must Be Paid” will combine dance, music, monologues and acting by community youths when it debuts at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Clark State Performing Arts Center’s Turner Studio Theatre.

The show is free and open seating will begin at 6:30 p.m. The production is sponsored by Clark County Partners in Prevention Coalition and Oesterlen Services for Youth with support from the Gary Geis Dance Company and Clark State Performing Arts Center.

There is no shortage of musicals and plays in the area, but few deal with subjects like addiction. Pastor Rachel Tune of Oesterlen secured a grant to produce a theatrical performance and approached Partners in Prevention to sponsor a youth-led drama on addiction and substance abuse.

A school production with the Gary Geis Company written by Wendy Doolittle, CEO of McKinley Hall, was produced several years before and used as a basis for this new production. Taking the title from a line in the classic drama “Death of a Salesman”, director Beth Dixon and stage manager Joan Elder sought to take “Attention Must Be Paid” to a different level.

“We put on our thinking caps and chose rain as an overarching theme. You’ll hear rain featured in many of the songs with a young lady in the story who has substance use disorder,” Elder said.

The cast of young people ages 12 to 24 created a series of vignettes including seven monologues the youths wrote themselves, some describing personal experiences or those struggling with an addiction may have, each touching on an important part of chemical dependency or how society reacts to it, according to Elder, a member of Partners in Prevention who works for Community Health Foundation.

“The thing the youths have in common is telling the story,” she said. “A person who uses is still a human being. We’re trying to reduce the stigma and show this is a brain disease, not a choice and people using can be unaware of the consequences.”

One pleasing comment Elder and Dixon heard a cast members mention is this is the most supportive group they’ve been with as far as arts experiences.

The show will use familiar songs in ways that range from poignant to humorous to hopeful. One humorous skit takes the song “All That Jazz” from the musical “Chicago” and changes it to “All Those Ads” skewering how marketers aim their products such as vapes and cigarettes at young people as being cool and even healthier alternatives.

Another is the cheery song “Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” associated with Doris Day, but shows another side to it. The show closes with “I Can See Clearly Now” which has rain in the lyrics and also shows both sides of addiction.

The latter song proved a challenge for Jacquan Brewton, who will perform and is one of three choreographers. His life had been touched by family members with substance abuse disorder.

“It’s something I think reflects the mood. Addiction needs to be discussed and this will open minds and to show compassion,” said Brewton.

Donovan Geer and Noah Dawson have gone from school friends to creative partners in “Attention Must Be Paid” as performers and behind the scenes, helping with monologues and shaping the show.

Geer knew Dixon from his days in Project Jericho and she called him out of the blue to invite him so perform and he brought Dawson along.

“Most of the pieces were there, we’ve just helped give it a cohesive overall story. We gave it the weight it deserved,” said Dawson, a graduate of Global Impact STEM Academy.

Geer, who graduated from Shawnee, said it was going from the message don’t do drugs to adding having empathy also for those using and the dark places they are in.

The pair are working on a variety of creative subjects from music to writing to animation and hope to make their mark in the future.

Elder and Dixon said the participation of so many groups reflects the importance of the subject matter, such as being admission-free due to the grant. They were also grateful for the Performing Arts Center’s eagerness to host the performances and Gary Geis and Covenant Presbyterian Church for offering rehearsal space.

Attendees will receive resource bags with information on how to help someone with an addiction.

“Our hope is this is a starting point and the audience will walk away with good information and have compassion for those struggling and understand how addictive substances are to the brain,” Elder said.

For more information on the show, go to

About the Author