Dwight Hall screened the 2014 film “How I Got Over” Wednesday, a documentary that follows 15 formerly homeless women in Washington, D.C., as they transform their personal narratives into a play as part of The Theatre Lab’s Life Stories program.
Dwight Hall showed the documentary in order to draw attention to the work of The Theatre Lab, a nonprofit whose Life Stories program aims to provide marginalized subsets of the population such as wounded veterans, incarcerated youth and senior citizens with a platform to share their real-life narratives through performance.
After the screening, co-founders and co-directors Deb Gottesman and Buzz Mauro ’84 discussed the process of working with the women.
“We knew that we wanted to give these women a bigger stage, so we had the idea that we would take one of their shows to a really big theater,” Gottesman said.
While working with The Theatre Lab, the featured women were undergoing treatment for addiction at N Street Village, a center for rehabilitation and recovery. The Theatre Lab had already been working with N Street residents for several years via an improvisational theater program, Gottesman said. To devise “My Soul Look Back in Wonder: Life Stories from Women in Recovery,” playwright Jennifer Nelson incorporated the women’s real-life stories into a script. The goal was to finish the 12-week process with a one-night-only performance at The Kennedy Center, an undertaking that no other Life Stories project had attempted before. The 2012 performance ultimately sold out, according to The Theatre Lab’s website.
While the experience of creating the play was challenging for both the Life Stories teachers and the women, it was ultimately rewarding and extremely powerful, Gottesman said.
“Most of our work is probably always going to be on the smaller scale, but [this performance] was a valuable way of getting these stories out to larger audiences,” Mauro said.
Besides exposing the untold narratives of marginalized people, he said, the Life Stories program imparts valuable skills to its participants that are useful even beyond the theater world, such as increased self-confidence and the opportunity to break out of comfort zones. He and Gottesman hoped that working with university campuses would inspire others to take on their methodology of using theater to help marginalized communities.
The screening and talk was part of Dwight Hall’s Social Innovation Laboratory events and workshops series. Dwight Hall Co-Coordinator Anthony D’Ambrosio ’18 said “How I Got Over” complements other Lab programming well by presenting a creative example of social innovation.
“The program that Deb and Buzz have spearheaded is both unique and inspirational, and our audience was certainly entertained,” D’Ambrosio said.
While many of the women involved in “My Soul Look Back in Wonder” are now sober and living in their own apartments, with some even working with The Theatre Lab as teachers and mentors, Gottesman said, she is cautious about wholly attributing the women’s success in recovering from addiction to the Life Stories program.
“What we’re always mindful of is that we don’t work in a vacuum,” Gottesman said. “I couldn’t believe more in the transformative power of the arts, but when I say the majority of the women are doing very well now, it was because they were in a two-year recovery program. It takes a village and we’re always happy to be part of that village.”
Academy-Award nominee Nicole Boxer directed “How I Got Over,” which is available for streaming on Netflix.