‘Last Call’ spotlights addiction, recovery

Published 9:39 am Friday, September 13, 2019

What if sobriety meant community?

That’s the question “Last Call” poses to its audience.

Antagonist Productions and the Leeds Center for the Arts present “Last Call” this weekend.

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“Last Call” is a musical that takes place at an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting in an old church basement.

Attendees struggle together to stay sober while threatened by disruptive newcomers, the epidemic of drug overdoses and the loss of their longtime meeting place.

“Throughout this meeting, you learn a little bit about each of the characters, and how addiction affects them uniquely,” director Trent Stephens said.

The overall message of the production, to audiences and their loved ones, is “you are not alone.”

“I would like for people of all walks of life to see this,” Stephens said. “People that are struggling with addiction. Then it’s redundant to say those affected by addiction because we all are, in some way or another. So I think we’re hoping to attract a nontraditional audience to the play.”

Soni Cantrell-Smith, John Kito and Margo Buchanan wrote the play. Lisa Stephens provided music direction for the show, and Diana Evans choreographed the show.

“We did a script drive a year ago where we put the call out for local playwrights to submit for consideration,” Stephens said. “And when we did that, we had, I’m gonna say close to 40 plays from playwrights in Central Kentucky … So it’s cool, we got to read a lot of plays. But one of the things that stood out about this is how timely it is … And that, unfortunately, it is extremely relevant.

“And when we were looking at these plays, we thought this could be an opportunity … I always like to think about how a play can be more than a play. And we thought this is an opportunity to plug people into resources, to put this subject matter into a dialogue.”

Ron Kibbey, who is moderating the talkback session after the show and works with the Clark County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy, said he was excited when he heard “Last Call” was coming to Clark County.

“In my role, a lot of what I try to do is community education,” Kibbey said. “… There are a lot of people who don’t understand addiction … they think, ‘this person is just making a series of bad choices.’”

Kibbey said it’s also timely because September is National Recovery Month.

“It’s perfect timing in terms of other community efforts going on,” he said. “My thinking is to reach a population we wouldn’t otherwise reach with recovery efforts out here.”

Stephens said he would love to say debuting the show in National Recovery Month was the plan all along. But Antagonist Productions initially slated “Last Call” for the fall. But it soon became apparent they should do the show during National Recovery Month.

Kibbey said it’s also timely as Clark County saw an increase in overdose deaths last year, and it’s on track to rise again this year.

And while the drug of choice is continually shifting — it’s currently moving toward methamphetamine, Kibbey said — the one constant is the people victimized by the disease.

“I’ve heard some people in the community say we’re fighting a losing battle, that we don’t have a chance,” Kibbey said. “But … I cannot cop that attitude … I believe things can change. I believe in hope.”

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and veterans. Stage seating is available for the performance. The show debuts Friday at 7:30 p.m. and continues through the weekend with performances at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Leeds Center for the Arts.

“[Tracey Miller and the board] does an excellent job not only running the Leeds theater, keeping the arts vibrant and alive in our downtown but she’s also very sensitive to community issues, and very much open to working with community groups around those issues,” Kibbey said. “… She understands the impact the arts can have, and she’s somebody who I truly believe is doing this for the right reasons.”

Halee Cunningham, gift planning officer and deputy counsel at Blue Grass Community Foundation, said the Clark County Community Foundation provided a $10,000 grant to help bring “Last Call” to Leeds.

Cunningham said Leeds has always been a great community partner, and the foundation continues to support Leeds’ mission of keeping the arts in Winchester alive and well. So, when Miller approached the foundation about “Last Call,” it was a no-brainer.

“We’re excited about the program and this topic of recovery and substance abuse especially during September, which is National Recovery Month,” Cunningham said. “It is a great opportunity for the community and for the community foundation to get involved.”

Cunningham said the foundation wants to be a part of the efforts of providing information and support to those who struggle with addiction, are looking for recovery or who are in recovery. Cunningham said the foundation also wants to be a part of encouraging people to learn more about addiction and recovery, which was why it helped fund “Last Call.”

“We hope to encourage people to think differently about substance abuse issues,” Cunningham said. “It’s important. We’re glad our community is focusing on it, and we’re happy we can help support.”

The run-time for “Last Call” is about two hours with a 15-minute intermission. There is also a talkback session after the show.

“There are so many people that make it possible,” Stephens said. “There are many people who are a part of fundraising, part of the construction, part of the casting, musicians, artists. It takes an army of people to do it.”

After this weekend, the traveling show will head to Bourbon County and wrap with performances at two different venues in Lexington.

Stephens said the musical element of the show adds emotion to addiction that a play might not have otherwise captured.

“Whenever you’re producing something like this, you think, ‘Why a musical?’” Stephens said. “Why does it need to be a musical? And I think I’m gonna butcher this quote, but somebody much wiser than me once said that ‘in a play, when words won’t do, that’s when the music comes in. And then when music won’t do, dance comes in.’”

Kibbey agreed.

“Music is the universal language,” Kibbey said. “… Music can express an emotion sometimes even better than words.”

“What I’m trying to say is that it’s so easy to connect with music,” Stephens continued. “And we want people to connect with the subject matter because making it personal for people is so important.”

Stephens said people would likely learn a lot about addiction throughout the show.

“Unfortunately, a lot of information about addiction will strike people as new,” Stephens said. “… So I think there’s some basic level information that they can gather from it. Beyond that, I think one of the things that the cast has noticed the playwrights were very insistent about is that we have a very diverse cast. And it’s purposeful.

“I heard someone the other day, say something that struck me like ice water. And he said, talking about someone else in the church that you wouldn’t think to look at him that he was an addict, that he didn’t look like an addict. And that is perpetuating a toxic understanding of addiction, that somehow the problem is the people out here shooting up behind the dumpster, not the people living up the block. And when you make it that, then it’s very different.”

A lot of the stories, monologues and the shares audiences hear in the play are inspired by real people.

“You don’t have to fictionalize this too much,” Stephens said. “The real story is dramatic enough.”

Stephens said he hopes the show makes it more real to the audience, especially for those who may not have as much experience with people in recovery or people who have substance abuse disorders.

“We’ve talked a lot about this because there is a very famous quote from Hamlet, ‘The play’s the thing. Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.’ For whatever reason, people allow themselves to suspend disbelief when they’re sitting in a play,” Stephens said. “They allow themselves to sort of go there in their mind that they wouldn’t necessarily in other social settings or if they’re getting fed information.”

Researchers also verified audiences could feel empathy when watching a play, Stephens said. Glenn D. Wilson, a psychologist from Great Britain known for his studies in psychology applied to performing arts, found attending a performance of a play can promote a connection with and understanding of humanity in a grander sense. Wilson concluded watching a performance also allows the audience to access emotions they often don’t, according to an article in Erickson Living.

The University of Arkansas Department of Education conducted a study on this notion. They researched the effects of live performances for students. Emotional benefits that surfaced included an increased ability to comprehend and empathize with other people’s feelings and reactions, according to the article. Those results weren’t as apparent with the control group that read the play or watched a movie adaptation.

“The reason we’re doing this play is that we can build compassion in the community, and people can make this a very personal issue,” Stephens said.

“You’re going to see what’s on the stage, and the stage becomes real to you,” Kibbey added. “And it provides an opportunity, I think, for people to see the characters in this play as real human beings. And also, hopefully, in their minds relate that reality, that realness to people that they know.”

“Empathy is the key to us helping each other,” Stephens continued.

Kibbey said he often recalls the story of a young man he worked with while a director for a local community health center.

“There was this one fellow who was talking about the nature and the progression of the disease or whatever,” Kibbey said. “He said, ‘When I first started, it was a little escape. I felt good. It was fun.’ He said, ‘But now, it’s 14 years later, and every day is hell.’ Nobody starts out saying I want this to become the center of my universe, the only thing I get up for in the morning, and the only reason I go to bed at night. But that’s the nature of the disease.”

When people leave the theater, Kibbey said he hopes they walk away with a sense of hope as well as the knowledge and empathy to help those who struggle with addiction.

“I hope that they walk out of there with an understanding that this community is working together to provide that hope, and the resources that can help them in this path,” Kibbey said. “… We have a very collaborative community, programs, agencies, faith-based, whatever that all work together. And there is a major collaborative effort in this community to deal with this issue.”

“I hope people, whatever their experiences with it, whatever their exposure is, whether they are addicts, or they know someone who’s an addict, I hope that they leave with a feeling that this isn’t the end of their life,” Stephens added. “They’re not alone. There are other people out there. The cure, if there can be called such a thing, is the compassion of a community.”

About Lashana Harney

Lashana Harney is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. Her beats include schools and education, business and commerce, Winchester Municipal Utilities and other news. To contact her, email lashana.harney@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0015.

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