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Breaking Silence

By Madison Nalbach

What happens when your hometown that was once filled with opportunities and promise becomes the heart of a gut-wrenching epidemic, viciously taking the lives of young adults and teens?

You take a stand and raise your voice, which is exactly what Warren, Ohio, native, Emelia Sherin did.

Both Sherin and her co-writer Zachary Manthey decided to produce a play where activism meets the theater stage in a way that is both touching and educating. The play is called “(IN)Dependent: The Heroin Project.”

This process started in 2016 when Sherin, a bubbly public relations student at Kent State University, got back from working on Disney Cruise Line and began noticing people from her high school passing away suddenly.

Fed up with the media always showcasing another death, Sherin began developing some ideas after researching the epidemic. However, she needed help piecing them together.  

That is when her co-writer, Zach Manthey, came into the picture. Sherin and Manthey met in an introduction to communications class; they both shared a love of writing, and Sherin decided to ask him to help format the play.

As Sherin collected months of research, she also took it upon herself to conduct 50 interviews from police officers, paramedics, current users, families who went through recovery with their sons or daughters and many more.

The interviews played a major role in making the play come to life because the entire play is based off the different personalities and experiences these people went through.

“What they felt was a key factor in writing the play because that’s what you want the audience to feel,” Sherin said.

As the play began to unravel, Manthey came up with the idea to personify heroin.

I brought the idea to Emelia to show her as this temptress type woman, much like the ones from old Nordic folklore I was studying at the time, and from there we were able to even show heroin’s side of the story as well,” Manthey said.  

Personifying heroin helped audiences comprehend how users feel when she is around and how they bow down to her or ignore her. The play started catching the eyes of many after its debut at the Akron Civic Theatre under the Millennial Theatre Project in August 2017.

Around the same time, Sherin and Manthey were contacted by Erik Piepenburg, senior editor of The New York Times, to be interviewed for a piece he was writing. They sat down in Scribbles coffee shop in Kent and discussed their work.

Piepenburg noted, “Portrayals of heroin frequently appear in pop culture. Heroin addicts have jolted through films like ‘The Panic in Needle Park’ and ‘Trainspotting,’ television shows like ‘Girls’ and ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ and the Broadway musicals, ‘Rent,’ which also features HIV positive characters and ‘American Idiot.’”

In Ohio, it is relatively easy to have a script at hand and find a stage to perform on while keeping the price of admission affordable. Community theater brings people together who want to be heard and creates an outlet for those who need it.

As of 2019, the show has been performed at the Akron Civic Theatre three times, Kent State University, Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton, Massachusetts, and it will possibly be in Colorado and at a Narcotics Anonymous convention in Minnesota. It was also performed at the Youngstown Playhouse in August 2018, where I had the chance to work as the design assistant.

Working with the cast was thrilling; everyone was very welcoming and worked so hard to find the emotion and connection to bring to the stage.

There were moments where I found myself crying because you realize that this is not just a play; it is real life, and these things happen every day. It is our job to spread awareness and educate people on the heroin and opioid epidemics that affect everything around us — even ourselves.

Whether you know it or not, you have been affected by this epidemic — whether it was attending a school assembly about the effects of opioids, knowing someone who has used before or even seeing something in the news about another unfortunate death caused by drug abuse. The only way to overcome this is by talking about it and educating others.

Sherin got a message from Chris Columbus, the director of many notable Hollywood films, saying he loved it and was very moved by the play. Sherin even got in contact with Marvel comic illustrator, Marcus McLaurin, who drew the backdrop for the Northampton, Massachusetts, show at the Academy of Music Theatre.

When writing the play, Sherin said she wanted to create something that gave back to the community. Sherin and Manthey did just that. The show has been performed for two years and has raised over $3,000 for local rehabilitation centers.

In October 2018, Sherin entered a scholarship program and became the next Miss Akron Canton with plans to run for Miss Ohio in June. Her platform is “We’re Only Human,” where she brings “addiction education and awareness, how to be (IN)Dependent and promote healthy coping mechanisms.”

Sherin became friends with former Miss Ohio winner, Matti-Lynn Chrisman. They met at the Akron Canton pageant where Sherin won. Chrisman’s platform is “Pain Isn’t Always Obvious.”

“It promotes mental health awareness and suicide prevention,” said Chrisman, who lost an aunt due to the epidemic in 2015.

According to a Kentwired.com article by Hannah Kelley, “Sherin’s plan after college is to do public relations work at the Akron Civic Theatre, the House of Blues or Oriana House in Cleveland.”

Sherin hopes to shed a light on this subject and educate people on the heroin epidemic. Both her and Manthey have different things they are working on for the future.

Sherin is working on a couple different projects, writing a play based on mental health, drawing from her own experiences and how it is like a shadow in some people’s daily life. She is also working on shining a light on people who are physically disabled, following the story of a young girl and how she has been discriminated in theater because of her disability.

Sherin is planning to turn it into a musical using actors and actresses from a wheelchair dance community in Cleveland.

Manthey is writing another play that is more on the comedic side and talks about growing up, transitioning from high school to college and the struggles it brings.

For Sherin and Manthey, it was important to them that they shed light on the subject because we all have struggles. We are not alone. We are only human.