Behind the Scenes: Finding Our Way

In 2016, The U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of California and SAY San Diego commissioned Playwrights Project to write a play about the meth crisis as part of the “DO SOMETHING about Meth” campaign. Playwrights Project Teaching Artist (and former Plays by Young Writers alum) Mabelle Reynoso crafted the resulting play, Other People’s Kids; a 45-minute stage play created from interviews about the experiences of real life San Diegans whose lives have been impacted by meth addiction.

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Still from Other People’s Kids by Mabelle Reynoso

Inspired by the stories of these credible messengers and guided by the expertise of local social service organizations specializing in addiction (including A New PATH, Kearny Mesa Girls Rehabilitation Facility, Camp Barrett Juvenile Detention Facility, County of San Diego Probation Department, East Mesa Reentry Facility, McAlister Institute, Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, Second Chance and Outpatient Psychiatric Services of UC San Diego), Other People’s Kids depicts the real life struggles of meth addiction with a message of hope.

Writers in Playwrights Project’s Out of the Yard program at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility offered insights on the topics discussed in Other People’s Kids. Impacted by OPK’s message of hope, these writers wanted to enact change in their community and deter others from experimenting with drugs by writing a play about their own struggles with substance use. With the goal of conveying the many causative factors that spur drug use and decreasing stigma around addiction, the writers worked with partners and as a group to fictionalize their experiences and carefully communicate the dangers of these drugs in a play they titled Finding Our Way.

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Out of the Yard writers at RJD, featuring Finding Our Way writers & contributors

Writing collaboratively is difficult for any artist, and is further complicated by juggling lived experiences with the isolating nature of correctional settings. Working together to create Finding Our Way was no small feat for these writers and PWP Executive Director Cecelia Kouma, who guided the Out of the Yard writers as they pieced together their different narratives into one cohesive play. In Finding Our Way, personal reflections explore the cycle of addiction in a kaleidoscopic view of recovery, from first time use through the spiraling journey of recovery. The play ends with a resounding call to action to support those struggling with addiction and leaves the audience with the hopeful message that with resources and support, redemption, healing and recovery are possible.

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Still from Finding Our Way at SDSU in 2017

Finding Our Way premiered as a staged reading in partnership with San Diego State University’s Theatre and Film Department in April 2017, acted by SDSU student actors. Feedback from patrons included:
“The fact that addiction can affect just about anybody is eye opening. Addiction is a disease, and I never thought of it that way before…… Performances like these bring awareness and are great to inform students and anyone, really.”
“This production is effective in humanizing those struggling with addiction.”
“[The play] explored the concept of accepting/embracing vulnerability, rather than seeing it as a weakness.”

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Photo from 2018 Meeting of the Minds Conference, L to R: RJD’s Chief of Mental Health Dr. Heather Greenwald, actor Cortez Johnson, playwright/TA Mabelle Reynoso, PWP Executive Director Cecelia Kouma, actors Rick Zazueta & Albert Park

Finding Our Way was presented at the California Dept. for Health Care Services’ Statewide Substance Use Disorder Conference in August 2018, and was the highest rated session at Mental Health of America San Diego’s Meeting of the Minds Conference in October 2018. Following these presentations, numerous universities and social service organizations across the state of California contacted Playwrights Project to inquire how they can bring Finding Our Way to their communities to spark conversation about how we as a society view those battling addiction, which brings us to present day.

Playwrights Project is committed to carrying on the spirit of the former Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company with our Mosaic program, drawing stories from our local community to present plays about topics that resonate with San Diegans. Inspired by the lived experience of those impacted by addiction and written by members of our community, this mini-tour and professional production of Finding Our Way is merely a sample of the meaningful theatrical experiences Playwrights Project aims to provide through Mosaic.

Finding Our Way was performed at San Bernardino Valley College in partnership with The County of San Bernardino’s Department of Behavioral Health on September 12th as part of their “Recovery Happens” event offerings during September 2019, which is National Recovery Month.

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Finding Our Way cast and production crew with San Bernardino Department of Behavioral Health staff and SB Valley College student actors

This week, we will bring 3 performances of Finding Our Way to Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, where the play will be performed on three different yards. Playwrights Project has brought professional actors to RJD for dozens of cold readings since we began providing Out of the Yard in 2014, however this will be the first time these writers witness a professional production of  their own writing.

Many of these adult writers have never seen a professional theatrical production, let alone one written by their peers. For many of the writers in Out of the Yard, this is their first exposure to theatre and for some, participation in our program is their first time being held accountable to deadlines and their first time seeing a project through to completion. RJD’s Chief of Mental Health Heather Greenwald shared, “What [Playwrights Project] brings [to the writers at RJD] is the reflection of their value… And for the moments that they are all together they are not in prison, they are playwrights, they are actors, they are creators not destroyers, and… they are making something beautiful.”

Playwrights Project is proud to present Finding Our Way at Moxie Theatre on Saturday, September 21st at 7pm. Please join us to witness firsthand the hope and healing that can be found in self-expression. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.playwrightsproject.org/productions/community/ or by calling the Playwrights Project office at (858) 384-2970.

We look forward to seeing you there!

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