Communities of Hope: Bringing Opioid Addiction to The Main Stage

Alumni TIES
4 min readMay 10, 2019

By Amanda Shaffern

Many communities across the United States continue to struggle with opioid addiction and the city of brotherly love is no exception. According to the Philadelphia’s Chief Medical Examiner’s office, there has been a number of deaths, as high as 1,217 in one year due to opioid overdoses. In 2019, over 35 city departments and agencies are collaborating with community organizations and residents on the Philadelphia Resilience Project, an emergency response to the opioid crisis and the epidemic’s effect on community members. The project has budgeted $6.5 million for outreach, treatment, and recovery housing, which is just one piece of the pie for the $36 million plan. While the city is making such efforts, there are many misconceptions surrounding opioid addiction, and public information sometimes fails to demystify the truth of this national crisis.

These cross streets represent one of the most drug influenced areas of Philadelphia.

The Alumni TIES seminar in April 2018, “Building Communities of Hope: Collective Action to Tackle Addiction,” inspired a project, funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State, that connects the realities of addiction with performing arts. The Addiction Fringe Project’s aim is to shift the narrative and candidly represent people who are affected and suffering from addiction through theatrical pieces. Our goal is not to heal those suffering from addiction, but to bring people’s stories to the surface and create an intersection between the theater and addiction communities, facilitating a safe space and reversing the stigma surrounding this critical issue. The first production for our small grant project is entitled Siren Songs, a verbatim styled theatrical piece, in partnership with Theater Oblivion, will be featured at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in September 2019.

The Philadelphia Mural Arts program served as a source of inspiration for the concept of Siren Songs.

Siren Songs is a theatrical piece focused on opioid addiction. Our goal is to give a first-person perspective of those affected by addiction in order to educate, humanize, and reduce stigma around the topic of addiction. In order to do this, over the past few months, we have interviewed approximately 50 people (and counting) for an outside audience to understand how addiction has affected people’s lives, their children, their spouses, and their parents. The interviews include those currently living with addiction and those in recovery. These interviews are now being edited in order to create a cohesive narrative and, in a way, reenact these interviews for an audience. Since the narrative extracts first-person stories, the hope is to illustrate the true side of addiction and how it can assist with solutions to combat the current opioid epidemic in our country. As this develops, we will hold a preview workshop, showcasing the work accomplished to date in order to receive feedback from members of the theater and addiction community to help the production have a greater impact. We believe involving our audience will be essential to the project’s success.

Editing team, led by Amanda Shaffern, prepare for the first reading of Siren Songs.

Since Philadelphia is one of the leading cities of overdose cases per year, it is imperative to understand and accept that this issue is occurring across the country; to our friends, neighbors, loved ones, etc. So often, we are taught to turn away from helping those in need due to a fear created by old substance addiction campaigns that spread inaccurate information. Through Siren Songs, we hope to create a safe, truthful show in order to help the community.

Actors reading the script for the theatrical piece, Siren Songs.

Leading up to the performance, we plan to launch a marketing and fundraising platform in early May. At this time, we can provide an update of our progress as well as show dates, locations, and our workshops! However, until then, we are editing the script and facilitating developmental workshops. We look forward to sharing more with you as we continue to progress in this project and bring a sense of understanding to this topic. Lastly, we will be sharing more information on my website, or to learn more about Siren Songs partner, Theater Oblivion, be sure to visit, Please stay tuned for more!

The Addiction Fringe Project is funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State.



Alumni TIES

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) are regionally focused seminars for alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.