Howland grad fights opioid crisis with ‘artistic activism’

Emelia Sherin is frustrated by the coverage of the nation’s opioid problem.

“The media is casting such a negative shadow over this,” the 2015 Howland High School graduate said. “Yes, it’s bad, but they’re going about it the wrong way, shoving facts and statistics and death rates down our throats and not giving us the knowledge we need to know — where are the treatment centers, what treatments are available, the knowledge we need to assist with this epidemic.”

She decided to draw on her theater background and her studies as a public relations major at Kent State University to create the play “(In)Dependent: The Heroin Project,” which premieres Friday at the Akron Civic Theatre.

“I wanted to create a show to help people listen, learn and understand the different aspects of this,” she said.

She interviewed about 50 people (including current and recovering addicts, the children and family members of addicts and paramedics and nurses who’ve treated them) to craft a story about two characters in recovery — one who succeeds and one who doesn’t.

Heroin itself is a character in the story, one Sherin described as “a conniving temptress who doesn’t give a care in the world, only that you’re using her.”

During her research, Sherin discovered that many of the preconceptions about heroin and opioid abuse are wrong.

“They stereotype it with the poor or the homeless,” she said. “It could be anyone. I interviewed a man, a recovering addict, who makes six figures. I know people in my community who are upper class who are struggling with addiction. We need to stop stereotyping all addicts.”

She called the play “a form of artistic activism,” and donations of clothing and toiletries will be collected at the performances for the Oriana House recovery centers.

Sherin, 20, has appeared in many area theatrical productions since being cast as the head of the Lullabye League in a production of “The Wizard of Oz” at Kent State University at Trumbull when she was in fourth grade, but she’d never tried writing a play before “(In)Dependent,” which she co-wrote with Zach Manthey, a classmate at Kent State.

“The show isn’t a comedy or a tragedy, it’s just reality,” she said. “Every situation in the show is based on real stories from the interviews.”

The play is being staged at Akron Civic Theatre as part of its Millennial Theatre Project. While the opioid crisis hits all ages, Sherin believes her generation is particularly susceptible to its lure.

“We’re young, we feel invincible and think nothing can happen to us.” she said. “I’m tired of it. Kids my age shouldn’t be dying of drugs. We should be working, traveling, seeing the world, having fun and trying to find ourselves instead of losing ourselves to addiction.”

The cast has been using rehearsal space at Youngstown Playhouse in preparation for its premiere in Akron, and Sherin said she hopes to stage the show at the Playhouse next year and would like to see it performed elsewhere.

“I’m an ally to the community, and I know I want to assist them in fighting this epidemic and spreading knowledge and getting more people educated,” she said.