Visions: From Church Basement to Big Screen

Visions: From Church Basement to Big Screen By May Wilkerson 10/05/12

A long-running play about addiction and recovery that has reached thousands of addicts has become a movie.

Image: 
A scene from "Demons and Angels" based
on the play "Visions."
Photo via

Visions began as a screenplay about addiction, penned by a newly-sober auto worker in between shifts at a New Jersey factory. But it's evolved into something much larger—a theater company, a far-reaching play, and now a full-length film—all with the sole purpose of helping addicts get clean. "Our only mission is to bring hope," Bob, the screenwriter, and founder of the Visions Recovery Inc. theater company, tells The Fix. Their hour-long play chronicles 20 addicts as they hit bottom, then find a moment of awakening that leads them into 12-step recovery. It's now been performed to an estimated 30,000 people.

But it started small: in 1991, after several community theaters turned it down, Bob's short play was first performed at a New Jersey treatment center. After the show, he recalls, "people were crying like babies, guys as large as houses weeping, hugging us." The initial cast and crew of 20 non-actors, pulled randomly from a recovery room, has since expanded to include over 400 volunteer actors and production crew—many of them recovering addicts, and most with no prior acting experience. Although the show has appeared in an off-Broadway theater, it's mainly performed in churches, rehabs, shelters, prisons and correctional facilities, and other "places no one will go," says Bob. Mainly performed in the tri-state area, it's also gone as far west as Kansas, and south to Washington, DC, where it played in front of congressional aides and addiction field, in an effort to secure more funding for treatment.

Visions follows 12-step traditions by excluding last names and putting on its shows for free, relying solely on donations. "It's special because it's a gift to us," says Bob of the experience, which has helped him stay sober for nearly 24 years. "A good portion of [cast and crew] have remained clean and sober, not entirely because of the show, but because it provides us with an opportunity to do service." The powerful story was recently picked up by notable documentarian and NYU professor Karl Bardosh, who produced a documentary feature about the play called Demons and Angels that premiered in the Reel Recovery Film Festival in NYC this week. Bob says he was nervous about seeing his work on screen: "Doing a live show is magic," he explains. "Over the period of editing, I had doubts that it would capture the magic. But when we premiered it—the magic was there." You can watch the film trailer here