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Cynthia Hopkins looks at the many sides of addiction
As a writer, director, musician, and performer, Cynthia Hopkins tends to work from a place of disturbance. Her 2013 piece This Clement World took on urgent matters of the climate crisis while her latest, The Alcoholic Movie Musical!, which runs at the Bushwick Starr through Oct. 31st, delves into personal demons of addiction and alcoholism.
"This is a burning issue in my everyday life," she says. "It's been a tertiary issue in other shows I've made, but I wanted to make something directly about the issue of alcoholism."
Initially, Hopkins wanted to tackle this subject with a film. As she explains, "I love theatre because it's feeling and ephemeral -- that's the beauty of it. On the other hand, it can only reach a limited audience."
But then she had to face the trouble of writing a screenplay and thus entered her second disturbance.
"There are multiple narratives at play in this show," says Hopkins, who performs in the piece alongside co-creator Jeff Sugg. "There's the actual screenplay story, there's me trying to write the screenplay, and then there are some scenes on video from the screenplay mixed with live performance. Plus, there's the narrative about us making a live piece. And then there's the life story, the raw material."
Given all that, there are fittingly a wide array of storytelling methods in The Alcoholic Movie Musical! These include a stand-up comedy routine and a section that riffs on R. Kelly's campy "Trapped in the Closet" videos, where Hopkins and Sugg perform multiple characters while Hopkins sings in an operatic style.
Meanwhile, there are intimate, naturalistic scenes featuring Hopkins and Sugg (who are married in real life) and even occasional dance and movement sequences.
"It just keeps changing form," Hopkins says, and as it became clear she was making a show for the theatre instead of a traditional film, she looked to live performance to inspire her. "I made a list of the most mind-blowing performances I've seen," she explains, and while none of the pieces she considered shared a common style or form, they each seemed to possess some kind of irreverence, joy, or exuberance.
"I'm a fan of dark comedy," she says. "The darker and more sad and painful, the funnier it is to me." And though she doesn't define The Alcoholic Movie Musical! as a comedy per se, it does have a happy ending -- with someone deciding to get sober.
"I'm speaking from a position where I've lived to tell the tale, and I can laugh at it," she says. "One of my goals in making a piece about alcoholism is to somehow be a beacon of hope for people who might struggle with this illness, so the element of humor hopefully makes the message of hope more possible."
Eliza Bent frequently writes about Brooklyn theatre for TDF Stages
Photos by Jeff Sugg.