Sober Storylines Make Appearance In Theater 

By Beth Leipholtz 10/22/19

Though a handful of plays address addiction and stigma, there are still some hurdles to overcome in theater.  

actors performing sober storylines in theater
ID 135514753 © Evgeniy Shkolenko |

As the opioid epidemic continues to claim lives, sobriety and recovery are becoming more prominent themes in theater.

According to the New York Times, more playwrights are tackling the tough issues, often as a result of heaving dealt with it themselves. 

Sean Daniels is one such playwright, having written the autobiographical play The White Chip. The main character in the play struggles with alcohol use, which ultimately leads to him losing his job. 

Daniels has been sober for eight years and wrote the first version of the play when we was in treatment. “I was just trying to process what was happening with me, just as an exercise to get it out,” he said. 

Though writing helped Daniels' process, he says he also did so in order to fill a gap in the theater world. 

“When I started out, I said, ‘I’m going to read all the great books and all the great plays about recovery and all the movies,’” Daniels said, “and there’s really not.”

Starting A Conversation About Sobriety Instead Of Keeping It In The Dark

Once Daniels wrote the play, he says others in the industry started coming out of the woodwork. 

“I really thought I was the only person in our industry who couldn’t hold their liquor,” he said. “And then once I got sober, like every fourth person came up to me and said, ‘I’m so glad you’re sober, I’ve been sober for 11 years.’ And part of me was like, ‘Listen, I’m so happy for you, but where were you two years ago when I was struggling?’ Why is it such a top-notch secret thing when it would have been great if that had just been part of the conversation?”

Though plays such as Daniels’ do play a role in destigmatizing substance use disorder, there are still some hurdles to overcome.  

“The conventional form of Western stories—beginning, middle, end—doesn’t do addiction stories terribly well because recovery, in particular, doesn’t have a concrete end point,” Duncan Macmillan, author of the 2015 play People, Places & Things, explained. “It's just something you live with and do every day, every hour, for the rest of your life.”

Subject Matter That Hits Close To Home

Even so, the storylines hit home for some. The actress who played Emma in People, Places & Things says she has been approached after shows by people who have been inclined to examine their own drinking habits and maybe stop altogether. 

Daniels also adds that when performing for those in recovery and therapists, it was “incredibly humbling and instructive.”

According to Craig Lucas, writer of the recovery play I Was Most Alive With You, on-stage storylines align greatly with those in real life. 

He says characters in the play are “learning to live gracefully with what life presents you.”

“Whatever the boulder in the road is,” he said, “you wrap your arms around it.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.