Raising Awareness Through Theater
A new production at the Anacostia Playhouse titled Dinner at Tuesday’s sheds light on critical issues facing a growing senior citizen population. Focusing on domestic violence and prescription drug abuse within this segment of society, Ward 8 resident Sharon Wise found inspiration for writing ther play by pulling from the deep well of her life experiences. Wise’s life experiences have ranged from surviving child-abuse, addiction and chronic homelessness to flourishing as a counselor, behavioral expert, mental health advocate, visual artist and now a playwright and actress.
A Painful Beginning
Wise had a precarious start to life having suffered sexual abuse at the unimaginable age of five. “At five years old I was describing that I was being abused. People thought I had a mental illness which is what it may have been because I was experiencing trauma. Trauma is something your carry inside you,” Wise explains.
At nine, the Chicago native began to run away from a home filled with violence and discord. She ate scraps she found at outdoor cafés, slept under bridges and in abandoned cars. By 18 Wise had two children and continued to live on the streets all the while beginning a downward spiral of self-medication through substance abuse to cope with her pain. Wise was institutionalized 15 times in either hospitals or jails because of her addiction to drugs and alcohol and three suicide attempts.
Recovery through Art
Wise came to DC in 1990 and continued to live on the streets. At the nonprofit My Sister’s Place, Wise had the chance to begin anew, become sober and start her life on a solid footing with art playing a central role in Wise’s recovery. Wise puts it plainly, “Art saved my life.”
“It was negative, but what happened to me was expressed through my art.” Drawing allowed Wise to simultaneously express both her pain and to describe what had happened to her as a child while coming to terms with her adolescence “my vibrant colored self-portraits illustrate my traumatic experiences and journey.” The importance of “visual language,” as Wise calls it, allows her to understand trauma in both herself and in others. Her self-taught fluency in this form of communication is a gift which facilitates counseling others and interpreting horrific, traumatic experiences that do not conform naturally to verbal expression.
In addition to excelling as a prolific visual artist, Wise has completed a Master’s degree and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in developmental psychology. But Wise has not stopped there. She now seeks to use playwriting as a means to educate others about mental health and societal problems.
Playwriting for Social Change
“I wrote a play three years ago called meet me on the moon which was performed at THEARC,” says Wise. The success of the production led Wise to continue on this path. True to form, Wise uses theater to impart important information about difficult topics such as substance abuse or physical abuse. She conveys in universal terms the impact these experiences have on people’s mental health and the toll they take on the individual level.
This year, Wise has written a play titled Dinner at Tuesday’s which focuses on domestic violence in aging populations. Wise explains “I use role play, social theater to communication a message.” In addition to writing and producing the play, Wise will play the role of Constance Tuesday, the protagonist.
Wise believes that difficulties seniors face often derive from a lack of financial resources including access to proper heath care and social services. In addition to touching upon the perils of prescription medication abuse, Wise’s play also focuses the societal stigma placed on seniors who seek new love interests after the death of a lifelong partner.
In Dinner at Tuesday’s, Constance Tuesday—a “young 64 year old” as Wise puts it—now lives with her sister Nadine Strong after years of living apart and independently from one another. Constance begins a relationship with Percival, a neighbor whom Wise describes as a “player.” Constance doesn’t want her sister to know that she and Percival are dating. To complicate matters, the relationship takes an abusive turn as Percival sometimes hits Constance who rationalizes his behavior as victims of violence often do. Everything comes to a head at a dinner when Nadine can no longer hold her tongue and passes judgement on her sister decrying a relationship she believes is dangerous.
For Wise, “The inspiration for this play is didactic. It’s like show and tell.” Wise believes seniors can still be sensuous and sexy and that we, as a society, should begin to reassess our perceptions of them.
The cast includes Sharon Wise as Constance, Jeremy Jay Sams as Percival and Sharon Coffee as Nadine. Mercedez Webb is the co-director and stage manager, Nancy Ingles provides support and wardrobe. Adele Robey, Executive Director of the Anacostia Playhouse, also offered extensive support to Wise for the realization of this play
Dinner at Tuesday's is Sunday, April 10, 2016 from 5:00 p.m.-6:30 p.m.; Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Place SE | Free Parking on street and lot. Tickets for individuals and groups: $15 (advance) or $20 at the door. Proceeds from this event support efforts to start an art school in Rwanda and the Congo. For more information go to www.anacostiaplayhouse.com.