Moving Stories Combats Stigma of Addiction and Incarceration

Moving StoriesPart of the cast of Moving Stories. Photo courtesy of Jenny Herzog.

A group of women who are recovering from substance addiction or have been incarcerated will share their stories this weekend in a part-dance, part-spoken word show at The Dance Complex.

Moving Stories is intended to reduce stigma around addiction and incarceration. The performance came out of the Moving Steps Foundation, which started out as a dance program for women at the South Middlesex Correctional Center in Framingham.

Over six months of rehearsals, the cast has taken classes on improvisation and storytelling. The women’s dance backgrounds vary—some had no formal training, while others had professional or near-professional experience.

Improvisation was difficult for many of the women, according to Jenny Herzog, who’s the executive director of Moving Stories and compiled the script.

“A lot of them said that in recovery, one of the biggest things is gaining a sense of control over your lives and feeling like you have a solid ground to stand on and you know you have a structure,” Herzog says. “Being out in the unknown in terms of dance caused a lot of anxiety. Trusting your body to make choices or know what to do, seeing that transition from having never done that before to getting comfortable with it to then really liking it, learning to surrender in terms of art instead of maybe other areas of life.”

Kristian Wilt, who has experienced both addiction and incarceration, experienced a similar journey from unease to comfort throughout the months of rehearsal. At first, her anxiety was so pervasive that she felt “almost paralyzed,” she says.

“I couldn’t do anything, I was just quiet, at the back,” she says. “Jenny was a huge help. I’ve learned a lot about myself—I guess I’m pretty funny. Jenny really helped me to come out of myself, do the writing, and do things I never did before.”

Moving Stories is a hodgepodge of improvisation exercises, spoken-word tellings of the women’s stories, and choreography that the women created for themselves. The show arc travels from themes of experience and strength to hope. Act one details the performers’ backgrounds and hardships and follows them to their breaking points. Act two is hopeful and uplifting.

“It was important to them that the message of the show be very positive—no matter what you’ve been through or what you’re experiencing, there is hope,” Herzog says. “A big challenge [for the script] was how to keep it from being so dark and so serious and then instantly become uplifting, how to weave in a contrast of moods and aesthetics.”

The show is roughly equal parts dance and spoken word, according to Herzog. Wilt will be reading her story, performing a jazz dance, and acting as a puppet during the show. Her story will focus on how substances can do more harm than a person might realize while using them.

Herzog, who attended the New England Conservatory, says the performers of Moving Stories bring a quality to their work that she felt was missing in more classical, formal performances.

“You can tell, just from them standing onstage, that they’re so wise and have been through so much,” she says. “I was missing that experience of humanity in the art. When these women are performing, they bring so much to the work just by what they’ve been through in their lives, and the work is so much stronger and so much more emotional to watch, because you can just tell that it means so much more.”

Moving Stories will run at The Dance Complex at 8 p.m. on Dec. 1 and 2. Tickets are $15.