Maggie Bloomfield recalled how rapidly she and her creative collaborator, Susan Dingle, became friends: “When we met, we couldn’t believe that we were both therapists, we were both poets, we were both women in recovery.”
Ms. Dingle said that when they started working together, they realized they had a number of parallel experiences—“me in Hollywood, and her on Broadway.”
Since their first meeting in 2012, they have shared their love of poetry, and worked together to show how writing can help people who struggle with substance addiction. Now, they have dramatized this lesson in “Break Out!” a new play they will debut Saturday, September 24, at the Southampton Cultural Center under the direction of Andrew Botsford and Rosemary Cline, both veterans of the Hampton Theatre Company in Quogue.
The one-act play is built around excerpts from existing works of poetry, Ms. Dingle’s “The Hollywood Dreamcatcher,” an epic poem she has been working on for 40 years and has performed as a one-woman show, and Ms. Bloomfield’s “Broadway, Booze and a Song of Life,” which was partly published in her Stony Brook Southampton Master of Fine Arts thesis.
“My show was emerging as hers was more developing, and we just combined them for this,” Ms. Bloomfield said.
They had planned on just performing their poems together, but when they reached out to Mr. Botsford about directing and making the readings theatrical, he made some suggestions that grew their plan from two readings into one two-woman show.
“Andrew helped us see that we needed a through line that answered the question, ‘Why are you doing this? Why now?’” Ms. Dingle said. “He was very inspirational for us to help us articulate that our relationship was an important part of this. Our comedic back and forth was an important part of this. So we sort of think of Andrew as being, in a way, like our muse.”
The concept they arrived at is Ms. Dingle and Ms. Bloomfield are visiting a women’s prison to present their stories and to tell inmates that every person has a voice and if they can get in touch with it, they can listen to themselves and strengthen their recoveries.
“There is a fake audience, and a real audience,” Ms. Bloomfield said. Though they are addressing the real audience from the stage, they act as if they are addressing prisoners.
“The cool thing is,” Ms. Dingle added, “we invite the audience to take on what would it be like if you were in that situation of incarceration, where you’ve actually wrecked your life. You’d actually come to that point where everything you thought was working, isn’t working.”
Though the play is about difficult struggles, it is often light-hearted. Even “hilarious,” Ms. Bloomfield said.
“If you ever went to a meeting of people in recovery, you probably would be astounded at how much laughter there is,” Ms. Dingle said. They bring that humor into the play. “Sometimes you have to be able to laugh at things that are horrible in order to be able to walk beyond them.”
Ms. Dingle, of New Suffolk, has a psychotherapy and counseling practice in Southold, where she works with people with addiction and substance abuse issues and trauma, including the family members of addicts. Ms. Bloomfield lives in Westhampton Beach, where she has had a therapy practice for 20 years.
With other poets, they conduct writing workshops at the Long Island Center for Recovery, a substance abuse rehabilitation facility in Hampton Bays.
“Our idea was that creative writing makes it possible for people to access well-being and to enhance and strengthen their recoveries,” Ms. Dingle said.
They have twice presented with Terri Muuss at the Expressive Therapies Summit in New York, and have also brought their methods to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.
Ms. Dingle said that in presentations they talk about their personal backgrounds, read some of their poetry, and introduce writing as a therapy tool.
“As it turns out, we’re using that kind of structure for this play,” she said. “We are introducing writing to an audience as a way of well-being and recovery.”
Ms. Dingle has been sober for 35 years, and Ms. Bloomfield has for 42, so they speak from experience.
“It has to do with the progression of the disease of alcoholism and how recovery begins to happen,” Ms. Dingle said of the play. “So we go from the experience of having substance abuse take over our lives, to somehow that moment of clarity and awakening in which recovery becomes possible. So, what it is really, is a testimony of hope for all people who may be struggling with this—with addition—and for their families”
She added that they are sensitive to the fact Long Island is in the midst of an opiate epidemic. “Over 600 people died last year of overdoses,” she noted. “We felt—as treatment professionals, as artists—we felt that we wanted to contribute to understanding of the issue from the inside. Like, what is a person feeling when they are doing all these destructive things that are hurting all of their family members?”
Mr. Botsford said, “Addiction and alcoholism are life-and-death diseases, and a lot of people die from it, but prior to death there is a living death that tears families apart, that takes people’s lives down the tubes. And those people are still alive, but they have broken all bonds, they have lost all hope, and that is a living death. And the escape from that is the kind of breakout we are talking about here.”
“Break Out!” will be staged at the Southampton Cultural Center on Saturday, September 24, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call 631-287-4377 or visit scc-arts.org.
One fine body…