Ursula V. Battle's Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance
Maryland is in a drug crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), the death rate of drug overdoses in Maryland has consistently been above the national average since 1999, ranging from roughly 1.5 to 3 times the average rate. According to NIH, Maryland is among the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths.
Ursula V. Battle's Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance take a riveting and thought-provoking look at the opioid epidemic. The production debuted December 15, 16, and 17, 2017, at Johns Hopkins' Turner Auditorium and drew sell-out audiences and rave reviews. By popular demand, the production returned for another successful engagement Saturday, June 23, 2018 and Sunday, June 24, 2018.
Directed by Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch, who serves as Director of Health and Human Services for Baltimore County, this powerful production is a mighty weapon in the charge to fight addiction and spread a message of hope and healing in our communities.
Through ministry, music, an unforgettable story, and dance, this groundbreaking production takes a heart-wrenching, yet heart-warming look at the devastating impact that addiction has on society - particularly on families that in some cases, spans generations. We believe this marked the first time a play of its kind was presented locally, and perhaps even nationally. The production also includes an original music score composed by Peabody Conservatory student Allen Branch.
I was orignally asked to write this production by Dr. Branch. In his capacity as Baltimore County's health officer, Dr. Branch sees the devastating impact of addiction on a daily basis. Dr. Branch felt a production that centered around the opioid epidemic would provide a creative avenue to address this growing problem, offer viable solutions, and get needed information out to our communities.
Dr. Branch was right. In addition to rave reviews and sell-out audiences, Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance was a great source of encouragement to many. Several individuals residing in recovery houses, which included Baltimore City's Tuerk House, Marian House, Wilson House, and the Helping Up Mission (HUM), attended the production. Moreover, others impacted by addiction, such as family members and friends of addicted individuals were also enlightened, encouraged, and inspired by the production.
A Mother's Cry, a group of women have all lost their children to violence in Baltimore, also attended two of the performances, and gave the show high accolades. In addition, the show was a deterrent, as young attendees were moved to think about the consequences of drug use. Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance also received a great deal of media exposure, which included news coverage by WJZ-TV, The Baltimore Times, The Baltimore AFRO-American Newspaper, and the Baltimore Urban Spectrum.
Another aspect of the production is that it speaks to addiction across multiple platforms, including alchohol, eating, and prescription medicine. Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance also touched on domestic violence, incest, and child sex trafficking. Audiences of all ages connected with the play's messages, which in turn brought about self-examination, soul-searching, and our greatest hope - transformation.
We believe the measure of a great production is one in which its message resonates and stays with audiences long after they have left the theatre. Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance is such a production. In addition, this moving piece exemplifies the power of theater to bring about societal change through the Performing Arts.
Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance is written and directed for multiple communities in a low-budget way. This was part of our desire to ensure that the show can be mounted as inexpensively as possible so that low-income audiences could also attend, and to keep costs low for touring.
Our goal is to tour this show throughout Maryland. It is our strong belief that Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance will help to assist in the state's efforts to fight opioid addiction. We realize that the stronghold of addiction is not only a regional issue, but a global one. Ultimately, we would like to take the messages of this inspirational production national and even international by touring it around the country and ultimately all over the world.
It was approximately two years ago that Dr. Branch requested that I write a play about drug addiction. I must admit that I was hesitant to write a piece that I knew would highlight the ills and heart-wrenching tales of addiction.
Despite my hesitation, I finally began writing the piece. As I began working through the first scene, I typed the poem that "Little Mike" would attempt to recite to his mother in the first scene. At the time, I really did not give it much thought. However, I came to realize that God had chosen the poem - Still I Rise by Dr. Maya Angelou.
As I continued to work through the play, I began to understand the power of this production and my "role" in it. God, the Producer had given Dr. Branch the vision, and he would be the Director. I had been called to be the Playwright. Through a play, God would use the gifts and talents He had placed in each of us to give hope to all of His children shackled by the bondage of addiction...hope that they can be set free no matter what it looks like. Still I Rise.
These performances are dedicated to the late, great Dr. Angelou, who was a poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She authored one of the most powerful works of all times, Still I Rise. Through words, Still I Rise, speaks to our very heart and soul. It inspires us, and conveys so eloquently, that no matter how insurmountable a situation may appear to be, we can be victorious! We believe that Ursula V. Battle's Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance speaks to this theme.
Ursula V. Battle's Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance is also dedicted to "Cynthia." It was on the evening of Monday, September 11, 2017, that we saw a woman lying lifelessly on the sidewalk along a block of North Avenue in Baltimore City, directly in front of where we were holding our auditions for this production. Dr. Branch immediately sprung from "Director" to "Physician" mode, and went outside to assist the woman.
Meanwhile, the paramedics arrived. Dr. Branch and the paramedics tediously worked to revive the woman and administered the NARCAN nasal spray. Seconds later, the woman sat up, dazed and disoriented, but alive. She identified herself as "Cynthia." Sadly, she appeared to be less concerned about the fact that she almost died of an overdose, and more concerned about what might have happened to mess up her high.
Her wearied face appeared to be one of sadness and despair perhaps brought on by years of addiction. The man who was with "Cynthia", knew Dr. Branch. He was ever so thankful for all that Dr. Branch had done to help save his friend's life. The events of that day re-affirmed our belief that God had chosen Ursula V. Battle's Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance to be brought forth at this appointed time.
Ursula V. Battle's Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance is dedicated to the "Cynthias" of the world. While the situation might look bleak, God can turn that situation around. However, we must do our part. We have to fully surrender that addiction, unforgiveness, hatred, or other issue that has us shackled. It is only fitting that the last scene of Ursula V. Battle's Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance end the way it began in the first scene. Still I Rise.
Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance aligns perfectly with Mary Sawyer's Baker and her neice Mary Imboden's innovative vision to meet the needs of the city of Baltimore.