Kent State students create play about growing heroin epidemic



Cody Patton

She is a temptress, a vixen, a liar — and now she has a face in one Kent State student’s play: “(In)dependent: The Heroin Epidemic.”

“Whether you know it or not, you are being affected by the heroin epidemic,” said the play’s creator, sophomore public relations major Emelia Sherin.

The play will debut as part of the “Millennial Theatre Project” on August 4 at the Akron Civic Theatre.

The media often portrays only the most negative side of the heroin epidemic, Sherin said, leaving out stories of those who fought — and succeeded — to escape the cycle of drug abuse.

“I want to show that while yes, heroin is debilitating and dangerous, there are people who have found support in other recoveries and resources like outpatient facilities,” she said.

Directing a play about heroin has its challenges.

“There is so much to do in terms of spreading awareness,” Sherin said. “But so little being done.”

Howard Parr, executive director of the Akron Civic Theatre, said he was happy to see a play address heroin.

“This topic is just getting more and more relevant every time you turn on the news,” Parr said. “We saw this as an opportunity to address an immediate concern in the community.”

The play follows a young man named Ryan — a heroin addict on the road to recovery — who relapses after three years of sobriety, and a young woman named Emily who is new to using.

The two protagonists do not know each other at the start of the play but soon grow into friends as they find themselves at many of the same places and begin supporting each other in recovery.

Grace Offerdahl plays Emily. Offerdahl said she is excited to be part of a project she thinks is “very important.”

“I feel like most people don’t understand the severity of the situation,” Offerdahl said. “It’s just something you see on the news and don’t think it can affect your life.”

Sherin and her team researched for months, she said, in order to send an accurate message.

Zach Manthey, co-writer of the play said the research was demanding.

The research reveals staggering statistics. Since 2003, Ohio has seen 775 percent increase in opioid deaths, and 3,050 deaths occurred in 2015 alone, the Ohio Department of Health reported.

To give context to the heroin epidemic, Sherin decided to personify the drug in the production.

“Heroin is supposed to seem like a jealous ex-girlfriend to Ryan,” Sherin said. “She is abusive to him, mentally and emotionally, and she is supposed to look like how heroin treats an addict.”

Heroin appears on-stage throughout the show but only Ryan recognizes her at first. Emily, still new to the world of addiction, does not initially see the dangers of heroin.

The message of the show is vital and relevant to all audiences, Sherin and Manthey said.

“I hope that people can dismantle their bias (by) watching this show,” Manthey, a sophomore digital media production major, said. “To see what addicts and their families are battling.”

Sherin said she hopes the performance will strike a chord with viewers and transform them into activists in their communities.

“I interviewed dozens of people — 50 to be exact — in preparation for writing this show,” she said. “This project is the collective true story of all these people: from police officers, addicts and families who have lost addicts.”

Offerdahl said she does not want people to come see her performance as Emily just for a fun theatre night.

“Theatre is something that people use to enjoy and have a good time,” she said. “But this will be more than that. People will take something away from it.”

Cody Patton is the diversity reporter, contact him at [email protected].