People, Places & Things explores actress Emma’s time in an inpatient recovery center for her drug and alcohol addictions. Playwright Duncan Macmillan (he/him) speaks with Dom Ocampo (they/them) about his experience researching and writing the play.
Dom: People, Places & Things explores theatre-making as something that both enables Emma’s addictions, and as a therapeutic tool. Do you find theatre-making useful for processing in your own life?
Duncan: This play, in some ways, came out of a point of crisis in my own writing. I couldn’t connect to theatre in the way that I could when I first started falling in love with theatre—there were real things happening in the world, and then you’d go into a theatre and I wouldn’t see them being addressed whatsoever.
People, Places & Things was my last attempt to write a play. It explored this anxiety I had about a particular kind of Twelve Step recovery. I’d seen some friends and family members go through it, and had seen its focus on a sort of Evangelical Christian God. I struggled to see that as our only chance for survival in the face of addiction. While I wrote the play, I met with people who told me their stories, were incredibly generous with their time.
By the end of having worked on People, Places & Things, I’d sort of softened, and sort of fallen back in love with theatre a little bit. So to get to your question: the overlap of what can be achieved in group therapy and what can be achieved in theatre is a really meaningful one. It changed how I think about theatre going forward. I’ve never used theatre as therapy, exactly, but I do think that it shares things with the experience of going to an AA meeting. It’s this feeling that you’re not alone, it’s profound—really feeling that you’re seen by someone else, bearing witness to someone else, it’s really powerful.
Dom: This play explores trauma and its cycles, but it’s also so funny and witty. What was the most fulfilling part of writing this play?
Duncan: The most memorable part was opening night. All the patients I met when they were on day one of their recovery journey, who’d come to see our final run in the rehearsal hall a month before opening, so we’d been through a hard tech and preview process. But there they were; they bought themselves tickets to see this show. It’s easy to think, this made-up character is just a character, we’re all pretending, none of this matters. But the people from that community—they basically gave us a five-star review, and that’s all we really wanted. We’re making it for these people who were so vulnerable, who are giving us their stamp of approval.
People, Places & Things is now playing at Studio through December 11. Get your tickets to this dazzling play here.