UW-S director turns playwrite with ‘humanizing’ storytelling

The University of Wisconsin Sheboygan’s Theatre Professor, Dr. Thomas Campbell, is switching roles for the first theatre production of the new semester.

Rather than his customary role as director of University Theatre, Campbell will be front and center – as author/performer in One Step Up, a story about “alcoholism, recovery and Bruce Springsteen.”

This is the premier production of a story that Campbell himself started writing while a Ph.D. candidate at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill. He has been developing the script for the past six years and is now preparing for three performances, Sept. 21-23.

Campbell’s research agenda looks at portrayals of alcoholics and alcoholism on the American stage and how stigmas and stereotypes in those mediums are deterrents for people getting the help they need in real life.

Campbell also posits the theory that stigmas and stereotypes can be diminished and possibly eliminated with the use of theatre and through the act of storytelling. “Stories humanize issues that we have difficulty understanding,” states Campbell, “and we have to break through our trepidations and face our fears when we discuss things that may have traumatized us in the past. That’s an incredibly difficult thing to do, but it become a bit easier for some when they say, ‘Let me tell you a story.’.”

Although the topic of addiction and recovery is a hot topic right now and culturally relevant, Campbell acknowledges the challenges of talking about these issues in a public format.

“When it comes to addiction, people are often dealing with so much pain, that they don’t want to talk about it, which I respect. That said, there are people out there who have powerful stories that are comfortable sharing them in the hopes that their story can help another person. That should be respected, too.”

This event is also being cosponsored by Mental Health America in Sheboygan County. MHA-Sheboygan County executive director Kate Baer shares, "September is National Recovery Month and MHA is honored to support Campbell's One Step Up performances and that of a message of hope & resilience for our community. We believe recovery is person-driven, occurs through many pathways, and emerges from hope. We also recognize that recovery is culturally-based and influenced by preconceived notions. Storytelling and the stage are powerful tools we can use to remove stigma around substance abuse/ mental health issues, which for many is a huge barrier in getting the treatment they deserve."

“The power of narrative” is a common theme for the entire University Theatre 2017-18 season, according to Campbell. He explains that “while theatre is always about story-telling, this year’s line-up will have one or two actors addressing the audience directly - overtly telling a story.” The stage of the Fine Arts Theatre is also being converted to a black-box space. Campbell noted that the “black box atmosphere provides a more intimate atmosphere to enhance the story-telling, as well as the emotional connection with the audience.” Other performances planned for the 2017/18 season include: Bash (Nov. 15-18); Collaborator (Jan. 31-Feb. 3) and Rainy Day People (April 11-14).

Three performances of One Step Up are planned for Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening, September 21-23 at 7:30 pm with talk-back sessions taking place after each performance moderated by MHASheboygan.

All performances will be in the University Theatre, located on the UW-Sheboygan campus at One University Drive in Sheboygan. Tickets are available at the door and online at http://sheboygan. uwc.edu/campus/arts/ theatre. For more information, visit www.sheboygan.uwc.edu or phone 920-459-6677.

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