Rehab Recruitment, Rock Opera Style

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For people who don’t drink, Margaret Frank and Peter Moon have spent a lot of time in bars.

He’s the leader of a rock band that’s played plenty of bar gigs through the years. She’s his lyricist and partner. Both became concerned a long time ago about what might happen to their audiences after the shows’ end.

More than a decade worth of songs inspired by those worries have become a rock opera about addiction and rehab. The creators of Fix hope it will help new audiences recognize when it’s time to seek out recovery.

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The idea that a piece of theater could affect that kind of decision may seem like a stretch, but Frank says it has happened. Two years ago, to be exact, when a portion of Fix, still in development at that point, was performed at the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts. “It was parents night,” Frank explains, “and we actually got a mother that came out of the show and said, ‘my kid’s in trouble.’ It was a matter of hours where they got the kid out of jail and put him into rehab.”

What that mother saw was not exactly the kind of show the label “rock opera” might bring to mind. The parts aren’t played by actors who both sing and dance their way through the story. Instead, singers perform from the side of the stage, while professional dancers carry out the action.

“What’s the difference between
giving up and letting go?
And can you show me what is real?
Tell me how you know.
What’s the distance between
high and stoned, Vincent?”

Dancers Carrie Gerow and Brandon Sears rehearse "Vincent"
Dancers Carrie Gerow and Brandon Sears rehearse “Vincent”

In rehearsal, choreographer Jennifer Harwell guides a pair of dancers through a pivotal moment from the first act, as a woman decides she has to leave the man she loves. His drinking has become too much.

“It hurts your ego,” Harwell says to Brandon Sears, “which is why, initially when that happens, if you need to not look at her, like did that just really happen, really?” Then, when he’s ready, she instructs him to give his partner a look that could shoot daggers.

“Of course, because my ego is hurt,” says Sears, nodding his head.

His partner, Carrie Gerow, interjects. “And she never looks back, she’s made the choice and she’s done.”

“Well,” clarifies Harwell, “she’s attempting to make the choice. It’s codependency at its best.”

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And at it’s most real, according to Cheryl Brown. Brown is the outreach director for The Ranch, a residential rehab center in Hickman County that’s sponsoring the play. “In our own effort to keep ourselves OK, we’ll come up with all kinds of rationalizations about, ‘I’m not that bad-yet,’ but it’s the family members, it’s the loved ones, it’s the coworkers, it’s the employers holding up the mirror saying, ‘hey, we’re concerned about you.’”

Brown says Fix has the potential to hold up that mirror to audience members, too. “When people can see something or hear something and go ‘I do that,’ it resonates with them.”

“So go on and write me off your list
Because I am still a frog
Despite your kiss”

Brown says that moment, that realization, has to happen before someone can get help.

There will be information about rehab programs in the lobby, just in case some one needs it. Margaret Frank, the lyricist, says her goal is to tear down any inhibitions people might have about walking to those tables and picking up the brochures.

“If you can remove that shame from the disease, they’ll go get help. And also, I mean, 15 dancers on the stage, that makes recovery look really inviting,” Frank laughs. “I mean, they’re really attractive dancers!”

“We stand in the wrong line
speak at the wrong time
pray for the light of day
Oh, we put on our faces
and try so hard to feel
anything…”

Fix will be performed in full for the first time Saturday night at Vanderbilt’s Ingram Hall.

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Nina Cardona

Nina Cardona is WPLN's host for All Things Considered. As a reporter, she covers a wide range of assignments with an emphasis on culture, the arts and local history. A graduate of Converse College, she's lived in Middle Tennessee most of her life.
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