MaryKate Ganza and Karen Ball

Liberation from myself, is how one voice describes it. Freedom from a lot of things. And: 

It means that I have a million moms, and a million dads and everything in between. They’re talking about recovery from addiction, a conversation that remains, despite increased public consciousness about substance use disorders, too often closeted. But a new theater work-in-progress called The Closed Door — written by Michael Cheung and Lindsey Higgins, directed by Higgins, and created and devised by an ensemble of 60 Grit Theatre Company — aims to bring stories of recovery out and into the light. 

The Closed Door takes a prismatic approach as it illuminates the struggles and successes of recovery, bringing together modes of theater, poetry, and movement. A tapestry of voices describes early encounters with alcohol or drugs, the crises that drove them to stop using, and what has helped them sustain their recovery. Onstage, interwoven with these voices, two performers (Karen Ball and MaryKate Ganza) deliver interludes of beautifully oblique physical and spoken performance, as they muse lyrically about the etymology of addiction, the metaphor of staring at the sun, a personal talisman made of the number 11.

A workshop production of this work-in-progress runs February 14-23 at the Studio Theater at Portland Stage, with open panel discussions with recovery experts on February 20 and February 23. I asked director Lindsey Higgins about the inspiration and process behind this work-in-progress.

The Phoenix: What motivated the creation of THE CLOSED DOOR? 

Lindsey Higgins: The motivation from this show came from an immediate desire to intersect art with recovery in a meaningful way. I've watched the story of addiction misrepresented on stage and screen innumerable times, through a lens of bleak morbid fantasy. I want to tell a story that is more complicated than that, one that is more human. Creating this work is also part of my own personal healing, a search to find my own voice as a woman in recovery.

The Phoenix: What can you tell me about your aesthetic approach and your process in creating this work? 

LH: I was fortunate to study directing in London under the teachings of wildly imaginative and creative mentors that completely rearranged my perception of what performance is. I attended performances that were in complete blackness, dissected Shakespearean performances told with 15-foot puppets, and was introduced the terrifying and confusing process of devised theatre. I began to understand that within my personal experience, there was a voice that was valid enough to tell a story. My aesthetic choices are visceral, dark, hopeful, and always involve physical movement. It was also important to use the words of the individual interviews, verbatim, while devising our story. Playwright Michael Cheung was instrumental in breathing new life into our story and finding a middle ground between the interviews and our theatrical creation. 


Karen Ball

The Phoenix: What do you think theater, as a form, can offer our community as we contend with the problems of addiction? What do you hope audiences will find in and take from THE CLOSED DOOR?  

LH: Theater can offer our community an opportunity to see addiction differently, and to heal. It can create space to facilitate vital conversation and to tell the story of addiction with truth and empathy. Addiction is an isolating experience that thrives in silence. My hope is that audiences, particularly those in recovery, understand they are seen and heard. My hope is that audiences outside of the recovery community see addiction differently.    

The Phoenix: Anything else you'd like to share about THE CLOSED DOOR?  

LH: 60 Grit is partnering with Milestone Recovery to donate 100 percent of our profits above the cost of production. Right now we are roughly $1,500 dollars away from the possibility of donating to Milestone and we need all the financial support we can get to make this project a success. 


The Closed Door | By Mike Cheung and Lindsey Higgins | Portland Stage Studio Theater, 25 Forest Ave in Portland, February 14-23 | www.60grit.org  

Megan writes about theater, books, and film, and is reviews editor of "The Café Review". Her poetry collection "Booker's Point" was awarded the 2017 Maine Book Award and the Vassar Miller Prize.

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