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Anytown musical proves that addiction does not discriminate



How a musical encourages essential conversations about the dangers of opioid addiction among middle and high school students.

By Renee Woodside, Manager, Horizon Foundation for New Jersey

Imagine you are 12 years old. It’s a crazy time when you are trying to figure out life, who your friends really are and navigate your way through the dreaded middle school. Now imagine looking in your mom’s purse and finding a needle and soon after being separated from her because of her addiction.

This is a story that happens too often these days and unfortunately, it happened to Ayla from Sussex County, New Jersey. Ayla grew up in New York. Her parents divorced when she was young, and her dad remarried and moved to New Jersey. She was close with her mom and knew she had addiction problems in the past but she never imagined the disease of addiction would reappear and affect her life so much. Her mother was a lawyer after all. She had a great career and was a great mom. Not the face of what we think of when we picture a heroin addict.

But opioid addiction does not discriminate. The rise in the use of prescription painkillers that include opioids has led to a steep increase in the number of heroin users and deaths. In fact in 2018 in New Jersey, there were more than 3,100 opioid-related deaths, nearly four times the number just a decade ago. It’s a reality plaguing our state and the reason that in 2017 Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, though its philanthropic arm, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, decided to join a partnership with RWJBarnabas Health to support the development and production of Anytown.

Anytown is a middle and high school touring musical created by Jim Jack of George Street Playhouse to highlight opioid misuse and how it’s impacting teens and families from all backgrounds. It’s a story of a high school girl named Hope, who has everything going for her until she is injured playing soccer and a boy she likes offers her a prescription opioid pill. This event causes her life to take a shocking downward spiral that causes strong relationships with her mother and best friend to break apart.

Vernon Township High School, where Ayla now attends, hosted one of the first performances of the tour this year. “I was a little nervous when I found out about the musical coming to our school,” Ayla said, “but luckily I have a lot of really good friends who know about the struggles my mom has with addiction and they were really supportive.” She also said that she thought the characters were really realistic. “The fact that Hope started lying to everyone and that they reveal her father was an addict as well, these are things that happen in real life.”

Lindsay McAloney, Vernon’s Performing Art Theater Director, and the person who kickstarted the musical coming to the school said it was unbelievable the type of dialogue it opened up in her classes. “We were able to have a real conversation about what the various characters were going through in Anytown. There are so many people affected by addiction beyond the addict and the students were excited to dissect the other characters and talk about how they would handle the situation.”

Jonathan Pearson, Executive Director for The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, says this type of dialogue is essential in the fight against the opioid epidemic in New Jersey and nationwide. “The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey is committed to continuing to bring these types of educational opportunities to youth in New Jersey,” said Pearson. “The epidemic affects our members, our employees, our friends and family. We plan to do anything we can to combat it.”

Anytown is touring now in middle and high schools in New Jersey. Through the grant with The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health, Anytown provides 50 performances annually – with all performances significantly subsidized, and free of charge to over 25 schools that can demonstrate financial need.

If you are interested in having the Anytown musical come to your middle or high school, contact George Street Playhouse’s Catherine Del Castillo, Manager for Tour and Academy Programs, at tour@georgestplayhouse.org or (732) 258-7561.