Confronting the Opioid Crisis with Art

Got teens? Take them to see 'Love Over Dose', a new locally-produced play about the epidemic.

To cope with the intense subject matter of the new play she’s directing, Georgeanna Smith Wade said she goes home after rehearsals “and I hug my babies so I can refocus so I can do it again the next day.”

For a year, Smith Wade has been working with 20 local teenagers at Young Actors Theatre (YAT) to develop an original script and performance for “Love Over Dose,” which brings to life a story of love and loss involving two teen siblings—a sister who is dead after an accidental overdose, and a brother who is left holding her pills and deciding whether to numb the pain or take a different path. The play will have its world-premiere weekend Feb. 7-8 at the Basile Theatre in the Athenaeum and will be performed at Central Indiana schools and public venues throughout 2020.   

From 2009 to 2017, people ages 15 to 24 experienced the highest increase in the number of deaths from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The YAT team will connect with students even younger than that, hoping to leave them with more knowledge about the opioid crisis, as well as more empathy for those who suffer.    

“Our research taught us that ‘scare tactics’ have not been able to make a dent in the crisis,” Smith Wade said. “What if they can hear a message of hope that not only educates them on the dangers of opioid abuse, but also inspires them to encounter life in all its ugliness and beauty, without being blunted by substance abuse?”

“I always make a point to end rehearsal on a high note. Sometimes that’s as easy as a rousing, ‘Good job!’ and sometimes we have a dance party to ‘90s music.”

While developing the project, which was funded by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, the YAT cast and crew met with people on the front lines of Indiana’s opioid crisis. They talked to a paramedic, an ER nurse, people in recovery, people who lost family members, a rheumatologist who prescribes opioids for patients with chronic pain, probation officers, and a neuroscientist, among others.

The students learned a lot about opioids—to the point that some young actors were reluctant to take pain pills that were prescribed to them after they had their wisdom teeth pulled. And Smith Wade has had to coach the teens through the emotional challenges of the play as well.

“We have spent a lot of time talking about how to let go. Read a good book, spend time with your loved ones, laugh,” said Smith Wade, a well-known actor who also co-founded Summit Performance Indianapolis, a woman-focused theater company. “I always make a point to end rehearsal on a high note. Sometimes that’s as easy as a rousing, ‘Good job!’ and sometimes we have a dance party to ‘90s music.”

Young Actors Theatre, led by Smith Wade’s husband, Justin, has received national attention for creating original plays that give fresh, young voices to current social issues. In 2018, Justin Wade went public with his own story of battling a heroin addiction when he was in his 20s.

“It’s been a huge help to create a piece that will speak to kids in their language,” Smith Wade said. “Our students have their fingerprints all over this work, which will make it a dialogue between the actors and the audience that speaks to them in a way beyond a bunch of adults preaching at kids.”

For information on Love Over Dose, visit loveoverdose.org.

Amanda Kingsbury is a co-founder and contributing editor at Indy Maven.