a fly’s account of my time at phoenix house

As part of the Stella Adler Outreach Division, acting teachers visit various institutions around the country, running acting workshops with those who might be in tricky times and therefore unable to access the performing arts. These teachers take with them volunteers, students from the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, to participate. I attended one such workshop last Monday night.

The Phoenix House, situated in downtown Brooklyn, provides ‘individualised, holistic drug and alcohol addiction treatment’ to men and has been serving the community for over fifty years.

I asked a fly, who was unoccupied that night, to report on my time there. Here is his account:

“When Nisrine first walked into the centre, she looked a little too eager. She arrived half an hour early and was smiling very hard – I thought maybe she was excited to be in a room full of men for two hours but afterwards I realised that she just really missed improvisation and play. I could tell.

When she met the participating residents, I could see she was so desperately trying to get stories out of them; she kept asking things like ‘How long have you been here?’ and ‘How has your rehabilitation journey been so far?’ and glared really intensely at them, as though she was Oprah waiting for an Aha moment to come shooting out of their mouths that she could later, I dunno, blog about. But when Suzy, the lead acting teacher, begun running the games, Nisrine seemed to get so caught up in the vocal warm-ups and improvisations and space-jumping that she must have forgotten all about her journalistic pursuits; there were no more questions, there was no more a distinction between Australian, Long Island resident, man, woman, teacher, student, experienced actor, beginner, sober, former drug user. I could see her desire to change the world was slowly fading. The world didn’t need changing. Well, not that night anyway. The world just needed fun. And boy, did she have a lot of it. She ‘loved New York, unique New York’, she ‘red-leathered, yellow-leathered’, ‘zipped and zapped’ and moved her body the way she had always loved doing. 

I followed Nisrine on the way home that night. She caught the subway with Libby, a fellow volunteer, and talked her ear off about the workshop, speaking very quickly and loudly and overusing her hands. She was buzzing with excitement as though, excuse the comparison, she had taken a hit; as though something dead in her had just been reborn and made her realise what she loved about acting – its ability to get her out of her head and into her present, its ability to transcend geographical, socio-economical, and gender boundaries, its ability to make us all forget about the shackles that bind us and instead, remember the humanity that unites us. 

Now…are you gonna be eating that?”