Theater Arts and Substance Abuse at Phoenix Houses of the Mid-Atlantic

Friday, March 8th, 2013

PHMA West Side Story Painting

PHMA West Side Story Project Poster

Clients at Boys Recovery Lodge and Girls Recovery Lodge, two gender-specific residential programs at Phoenix Houses of the Mid-Atlantic that serve adolescents experiencing problems due to their use of alcohol and/or other substances, have been engaged in The West Side Story Project for the last few months. The project aims to make treatment more effective for adolescents with substance abuse problems through a series of theater-based workshops.

The project consists of several activities, such as watching clips of the West Side Story movie, playing characters from the musical, writing, and painting, which encourage our clients to discuss and express their personal feelings and emotions. Arts in general and performing arts in particular, like acting, dancing and playing music, all help healing by increasing  personal growth, emotional health, and self-confidence. Arts are a very powerful tool for people who struggle with addiction and substance abuse and can make treatment more successful.

The progress since the project was started has been impressive. “Over the last few months, students have been able to complete a literary journal based on themes from West Side Story, we have secured a partnership with Arlington Police Department, and continued a fruitful relationship with Tom Workman of Theater Lab”, said Shauntrice Martin, the West Side Story Project Coordinator.

tony_v_sharks West Side Story PHMAThanks to the West Side Story project, adolescents who might have already experienced juvenile justice system and gang involvement will have a chance to interact directly with the police officers. This will help them see life from a different prospective and learn more about what being on the other side means.

Some clients at the BRL and GRL recently illustrated their emotions and reasons for using drugs in different creative ways. One client painted a brick wall that she observed in one scene of the movie. She said that she could relate to the character “Bernardo” because she felt close to him and to his feelings. Many times in her life she just wanted to punch walls after going through some very traumatic experiences. For a long time she was convinced that nobody in her family could understand her, and clinging to the “wrong crowd” and starting using drugs were her only ways to escape a deep inner sense of loneliness. Another client created a poster that says “Up with hope, down with down”. He noted how he literally felt down when he used drugs. He felt “numb & dumb”. When he went through withdrawal, he felt like someone physically pulled him up out of a really deep ditch.

“The residential staff at both BRL and GRL have been an absolute asset to the project!” said Shauntrice “The clients were also a huge part of my continued enthusiasm because just when I felt overwhelmed we would have a really amazing group session that kept me focused on the fact that these groups make a big difference for youth in recovery.”

When asked to share her thoughts on the West Side Story Project group one client wrote: “Monday was my first day here. At first I thought Ms. Shauntrice was doing something pretty stupid, but after watching some scenes and how everybody was behaving, it became pretty cool. When I went up to play the daughter…I thought it was weird because that’s how my mom and I exactly act like. Also when Ms. Shauntrice froze us during the scene and asked us what character we wanted, it was nice to know how my mother might have felt. I never really cared about what my parents thought of me so it was an eye opener.”

Every day, Phoenix Houses of the Mid-Atlantic helps hundreds of people who are suffering from addiction in 17 programs in Virginia, Maryland and DC. Find out more about our programs and services, or call us today at: 1 888 671 9392.












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