The Way We Live Now (2018)
is a performance-based civic engagement project
that updates a Susan Sontag short story to facilitate public conversations about opioids, chronic pain, trauma and hope. Through one-on-one conversations, participatory workshops and performances, we invite you to join us in ending a silence that leads to death.
Each month, 136 people die of an opioid overdose in MA. Close to 300,000 people in the state are prescribed opioids. These numbers ripple exponentially through our families and communities.
We are all implicated and involved in an epidemic. By opening up conversations around these experiences, we want to provide an alternate model for understanding an epidemic: that it can be a state of mass togetherness. The Way We Live Now Project is a celebration, a way of finding joy in the recognition that we are still alive. What does it mean to live within an epidemic? How do we live in an environment so deeply saturated by a substance, opioids, that are both invaluable and dangerous? How do we live with pain, or with the pain of another? How do we go on living?
AIDS shaped the lifetimes—was the lifetime—of a generation.The opioid epidemic is (becoming) the lifetimes of many of us now. In her 1986 short story “The Way We Live Now,” Susan Sontag portrays a group of friends as they live through the AIDS death of an unnamed friend. Other friends begin to get sick, to die, as well. What is consistently amazing throughout their hospital visits, telephone conversations and whispered remarks, is the persistence of behaviors and attitudes—the love and the friendship, along with the quotidian and even the petty—through what is otherwise a horrific situation. The early years, especially, of the AIDS epidemic seems marked by exactly this kind of absorption of the catastrophic and horrific into the everyday. The persistence of the everyday through the epidemic and catastrophic is truly the point at which this is the way we live now. We may not all be (or think of ourselves as) directly affected by AIDS, but we have all experienced (or will) being sick ourselves or the sickness of someone close to us. Adapting this story theatrically during our current moment, situated as we are in the midst of the opioid epidemic, makes a connection between the AIDS epidemic and the opioid epidemic explicit: the number of people currently dying of opioid overdoses is roughly equivalent to the number of those who died at the height of the epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s of AIDS.
Through our personal experiences within the opioid epidemic, we have come to believe it is a social and political imperative to make the relationship between the AIDS epidemic and the opioid epidemic clear. Not only in order to use the activism and community organizing models developed as a way of responding to this crisis, but because the AIDS epidemic provides a valuable lesson in demonstrating the horror and violence that accompanies the biologically-driven, fear-driven, stigmatization of people. We see this kind of stigma attaching itself now to those who are both affected by opioid abuse and those living with chronic pain, and believe that this lesson is one that bears repeating, writing about, acting on, and performing.
Especially because the epidemic does not end in death. It is the way we live now, and we go on living.
We may change: we are afraid, we worry, we become more careful, and we continue to hope. The long term impact of these substances stays embedded in us, perhaps taking the form of neurological changes, PTSD, physical dependence or the ghosts of loved ones lost. But just because this is the way we live now, does not mean it is the way we must always live.
What persists can be different.
The Way We Live Now (2018) was made possible with funding by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ Creative City Program, with funding from The Barr Foundation and with additional support from The Boston Foundation. Further funding is being provided by the Live Arts Boston grant of The Boston Foundation. Additional support is being provided by Fenway Health.
Jesse Erin Posner