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Teens Write Play About Fictional Street Drug Inspired By Life in Bushwick

By Serena Dai | December 15, 2014 11:17am
 Josh Rolon, 16, helped to write a play about a fictional street drug called Wipe.
Josh Rolon, 16, helped to write a play about a fictional street drug called Wipe.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

BUSHWICK — A new play debuting next year about the impact of drug use comes from the minds of those who have seen the effects of it firsthand: Bushwick teenagers.

Teens working with Bushwick youth drama program Brooklyn Acts wrote a play this past summer about an imaginary street drug named Wipe, which erases all forms of physical, emotional and psychological pain.

While the play is fictional, many members of the group who helped form its plot are familiar with the topic of drugs, said Josh Rolon, 16, one of the primary writers.

Teens in the area are used to seeing "crackheads" on Myrtle or Knickerbocker avenues, he said, while others have parents or relatives who are addicted to different drugs.

"I wanted [the play] to be deep, to be something real, something that a person from my block would understand," Rolon explained.

The play, called "Artifact," focuses on Wipe in the fictional city of Brooksin, with nods to businesses and locals the teens know in Bushwick.

One character, Merrick, hates rich people even though he is rich himself, Rolon said. He tries to find a way to sell Wipe to the wealthy people in the area using "artifact," an extra ingredient that makes the street drug marketable to the rich.

Another character, Cassius, is killed by someone who's impacted by "artifact," and as a ghost he meets a woman named Lydia who is bent on getting rid of Wipe from her community.

The play deals with people's various relationships with the drug and the philosophical question of whether the drug is good or bad for the world of Brooksin.

"It's the whole concept of seeing people either fall victim to or capitalize on drugs," Rolon said. "That's a normal thing a lot of us go through."

The teens were helped by volunteer playwright Cory Tamler, 28, educator Tara Elliott, 28 and actress and educator Isabel Shanahan, 29, who led improv sessions and discussions to help the teens build the plot.

If the teens weren't sure what a character would do, Shanahan and Tamler would lead them through an improv session so that they could find the answer.

"We didn't want to make it so black and white," Shanahan said. "There are some characters who are really struggling. We follow them through this struggle."

Rolon, fellow lead teen writer Esteban Estevez, 15, and arts volunteers with Brooklyn Acts are now further refining the play.

They're seeking to bring in more local teens, between the ages of 12 and 17, to act in the play. Auditions are on a rolling basis and can be scheduled by emailing brooklynacts@gmail.com.

"It truly is an amazing piece of work," Shanahan said. "It's made by kids. It deals with mature themes, but it's also really accessible."

Any teens interested in other aspects of play production, including costume design, set design or marketing, are also encouraged to contact the program. Joining the production is free.