The Play’s the Thing: Actors Reach into Their Past to Teach Students about Addiction

Actors Reach into Their Past to Teach Students about Addiction

Four performers take the stage at a local middle school. The setting is minimalist with only a few chairs as props. The dialogue is much heavier.  At times funny, sad, and even a bit dark, the words are meant to be realistic while connecting to a young audience.

The play focuses on how people can get caught up in a dangerous, potentially life-threatening situation and how they can make it out. The storyline is based on true events, and while the performers may not have been in the exact situation as their characters, they are familiar with the theme. The play is about addiction, and the performers are in recovery from substance abuse disorders.

Improbable Players, founded in Boston in 1984, is relatively new to the Cleveland scene. Karen Snyder, a Northeast Ohio native, brought the organization here a couple of years ago as a way to aid in the recovery process. Improbable Players made a difference in her own recovery, she notes, and she wanted to share that with others.

Snyder knows that acting in an Improbable Players skit is much more than a cathartic experience. It’s a chance to help teens and pre-teens understand what addiction is, as well as what it is not. One of the plays in the organization’s repertoire, Stages, uses satire and high energy to reveal misconceptions about addiction. Another play, Running on E, discusses the pressures that can lead to addiction and how to avoid them. The effects of addiction on family members are vividly demonstrated in I’ll Never Do That, while the realities of the current opioid crisis are the focus of End of the LIne.

Schools and organizations choose one of the above-mentioned plays, which can be custom-tailored upon request. After a performance, the Improbable Players’ cast and the student body join in a Q&A and/or a talkback. The conversations are animated and inspiring. “Some students will say, ‘I never thought about addiction like that’ or ‘I can see myself in that character,’” Snyder says.

Improbable Players also offers a workshop series with a small group of students, providing an opportunity to hash out myths and misconceptions. “For example, we’ll say, ‘Alcohol is not a drug. If you believe that, you stand on that side of the room. If you don’t believe that, stand on the other side of the room,’” Snyder explains. “Then we’ll explain to them, ‘Alcohol actually is a drug, and here’s why.’” The workshop series uses an intimate and casual environment where students learn about addiction, how to avoid it, and how to find help if necessary.

Schools pay a fee to bring Improbable Players to the stage, but the organization works with schools’ budgets so that the plays are available to everyone. Materials are available before and after a performance for parents to learn more about their children’s experience.

Students aren’t the only ones who benefit from the organization’s performances. Teachers and school administrators learn effective ways to talk about drugs and alcohol. In addition, Improbable Players sometimes performs at venues besides schools. This summer, members of the troupe performed outdoors at Crocker Park in Westlake.

No matter where they are performing, the actors recognize the impact they’re making, according to Snyder, who serves as artistic director.

To become a member of Improbable Players, a person must be between the ages of 18 and 40 and must be sober for a year. “They need to be active in a recovery program, and they can’t be doing it on their own,” Snyder explains. Diversity is encouraged among the performers to reflect the many faces of addiction. No acting experience is necessary, just a desire to be as open and helpful as possible to an audience in need of candor and insight.

For information about booking a play or to audition for the troupe, contact Snyder at

Share on Social

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on google
Share on pinterest


Looking for stories that challenge, change and inspire? We've got you covered. Never miss a post!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Keep in Touch

WISH Cleveland Leadership Center