An acting teacher once told to me, “look at an actors career, the roles he or she has plays will give you an insight into their character”. The example he gave that most struck me was of the late Philip Seymore Hoffman, who frequented his class, “If you look at his career he often played lowlifes, eccentrics, bullies, and misfits. Is this how he felt about himself?” It is common knowledge that Hoffman suffered from addiction for many years and even tragically predicted his own fate saying: ‘If I don’t stop, I know I’m going to die’. Something about him fulfilling his own prophecy rang true to me and also terrified me.
As an actor, I started thinking about the roles I’ve played, characters suffering from alcoholism, love addiction, insecure writers, and criminals…my goodness! Is this a representation of my character? Short answer, yes. But perhaps those characters are just a part of me. I think I have been fortunate enough to portray these archetypes because of my dark and destructive relationship with my own addictions and fears. Fortunately, with a large amount of self-work, meetings, my community of friends, family, and therapy, I’ve managed to face my addictions and will not let them be the thing that destroys my dreams or kills me.
One of the most cathartic ways I began to manage my addictions was by writing. Six years ago, I wrote a play about four addicts, each takes a different drug that becomes a character in the flesh. I think this was my way of admitting to God, myself, others, the exact nature of my self-destruction. When I first started writing it, I don’t even think I knew was addicted to anything. The words just poured out of me and as they did it revealed to me what was going on inside me.
In the script, the drugs personified are, Coke, Crystal Meth, Heroin, and Ecstasy. Each drug had its own domineering personality. Ecstasy, dressed in a bright rainbow of flowing fabric, is full of energy, false love and adventure. Heroin, with its black tongue, cloaked in slightly singed grey fabric with ominous black wings, beckoning you to die with him. Cocaine was simple, a perfectly tailored suit, suave, mobster-like assassin, covered in white powder, you know, that asshole boyfriend you love to hate. Finally, there was Crystal Meth, seductive, dangerous, in a skin like vest, muscles bulging with green veins and tubes throbbing, leading you to places unknown and insatiable like a lust fueled predator.
The characters taking the drugs had all suffered some kind of untreated trauma or mental illness, typically exacerbated by assault, abuse and neglect. They wanted to leave their drug but it kept pulling them back. And like in real life, not everyone made it out alive.
This play was my way of finally expressing myself, my internal struggle with the drug world. When the play was extremely well received, I was elated. It ran in two theaters, The Gene Frankel Theatre and Theatre 80, both sold out to full houses. However, the best part of the journey was talking with audience members as they expressed how they could relate to the characters battle with their respective drugs. It was all coming full circle. This play I wrote in isolation, that served as a healing tool for me alone, was now touching other people, connecting us, motivating us to talk about a dirty, shame-ridden underbelly of society. That’s really when my recovery truly began.
I knew one day I wanted to make a film of the play but it had to be at the right time. It’s pretty hard putting your self/work out there when it’s so revealing. Then I remembered this is not just my story, it’s our story.
The notion that I can be apart of a healing dialogue while using my art has led me to where I am now. Six years later and I’m finally making that film.
Like myself, the story has evolved over the years, I cut the character of “Ecstasy”. I know it’s an addictive drug but wanted to focus on the three which in England are known as “Class A” drugs because I’m from the UK. I’ve cut it down drastically and made it into a 9-minute short film, which will reach a wider audience. After the festival circuit, it will be viable online and VOD.
I’ve had the great honor of partnering with the nonprofit organization, Gay & Sober, to raise awareness for addiction plaguing the LGBTQ community. Gay & Sober, is sponsored by the LGBTQ members of Alcoholics Anonymous, where “all are welcome.” The organization throws an annual conference and provides opportunities for fellowship and support throughout the year.
Lastly, I want to express that though my addiction brought some dark times, it has also brought me to where I am now. I am creating work that I believe will help others feel less alone. Nothing defines me anymore but my truth. There is no shame in being in recovery and I want more people to know that. From all the dark has come light. I’m aware I am a work in progress but I’ve come so far from when I first sat at my desk to write CLASS A. I will continue to work on taking a personal inventory of myself and I believe more art will come out of it.
Perhaps what my acting teacher said was true, hopefully, my characters and art are reflecting this new me. For now, I’m just happy that I get to do what I do with honesty and integrity.
Thanks for reading and being apart of the dialogue.
Class A is currently in pre-production, to support, please go to: www.classafilm.com
To learn more about the non-profit organization Gay & Sober, their work, mission and the program, visit: www.gayandsober.org