The Homeless — they’re just like us but without a roof

I’m trying to put all my hats together and in the process I’m becoming an unmanageable hyphenate: playwright/activist/journalist/ nonprofit exec/supermodel

That is, all except the last part.

Playwright: I wrote this play called The Feast of Jovi Bono that was presented in New York in 2013. Since then, I have jumped into a Master’s in New Media Journalism that has led me to try to put all of my content into Tweets, videos, podcasts, Instagram images, Facebook, and any other digital packet that could arise.

Behind each play is an activism cause, and on this site I will report on the investigation of those issues. Coming soon: the story of how my director team for The Feast of Jovi Bono in Boston went out in the ugly early snowy morning to volunteer with the homeless. They connected with #BostonWarm — a collection of people in various places who help the homeless through the particularly ghastly winter that has hit Boston this month.

The directors, Laurie and Marina, learned that Boston’s homeless have a writer’s group and a literary magazine edited by a staffer at The Atlantic: http://www.thepilgrim.org/#!about/c69s

All this is not only to plan for the activism project that we hope will engage the entire cast, crew and audience for the play (which will be performed in Boston in June) but also to create awareness of homelessness.

Meanwhile, my research is showing that the number one way communities and policymakers can end homelessness is by putting people in homes. It will improve educational outcomes for the children. It will improve the health of people with mental illness (who make up a huge chunk of the homeless population). It will reduce criminal activity, substance abuse, joblessness, and all the other ills that come with not having an address of one’s own.

Our production cannot put people in homes, but it’s my goal that no one experience my shows without doing something to alleviate the issues I raise in them — in this case homelessness.

Coming soon — an educational and outreach video.

 

Does the cure have to go down like medicine?

I’m working on a show about a lot of things, not the least of which is medical marijuana. It’s called “Elvira, the Druggist,” after St. Elvira of Spain, one of the first women in that country to earn a degree in pharmacology, who was later executed for protecting those who stood up against the tyrannical government that was then in power. If you’re interested there is more information here.

In the play, opponents of medical marijuana worry that patients who take it to alleviate the symptoms and complications from seizures, multiple sclerosis, pain, glaucoma, AIDS, mental illness, and cancer will experience a high. Explore this with me. The fear is that some pleasure might come from a plant that could provide relief from some of the most painful and debilitating conditions to affect humans?

Must medicine be — medicine? Must it be chemo and radiation that cause hair to fall out, crushing fatigue, and a weakened immune system? Must it be giant pills that cause indigestion and heartburn? Must it be a pharmacy in a bag of dozens of medications daily, which cause additional symptoms, which are alleviated by another pill, all of which costs hundreds or thousands of dollars each month, which patients often do not have because they miss a lot of work, or they cannot go to work, due to the original sickness and the sickness from the cure.

Does it sound paranoid to believe big pharma can be harmful? The pharmaceutical industry has done a lot of good, and there are miracle drugs on the market.

There are also killers. Andy Behrman, author of Electroboy, started out as a spokesman for Bristol Meyers Squibb, makers of Abilify. Behrman’s fight with BMS is covered well in this Wall Street Journal article.

Behrman experienced nearly all of the possible side effects of Abilify in his first several days of taking the drug. He made a YouTube video that went viral, cautioning against Abilify. http://youtu.be/9VzMZX4nBz8

Abilify is a researched, FDA approved pill. Behrman stopped taking Abilify because he “didn’t want to experience the final side effect — death.”

Back to medical marijuana. THC is the ingredient in cannabis that causes a high. Medical marijuana has lowered concentrations of THC, which means it is virtually impossible to be high on the medical strains. It is difficult to find a non-biased source for breed and formula information about medical marijuana, but here, the group Safe Access Now discusses the various forms of cannabis available with pros and cons of each.

What if there was a high? What if a person with chronic seizures, with pain from cancer, with deadly depressions, with debilitating multiple sclerosis, had a pleasurable effect from the bit of THC? Does medicine always have to be something we choke down? Can there never be a positive side effect to a medicinal product? Whom is cleared to judge a patient who experiences more than the intended symptom relief? Why would it be such a bad thing?

All my creative works involve three components: the artistry, which I strive to make top-notch; the investigative and biographical studies on the historical people and the 21st century issues; and the public service part — I hope the entire audience cast and crew will get out and do something about it.

For now: what do you think of medical marijuana? Do you think making darn sure no one is getting a buzz should be the main concern?

Electroboy is a character/Andy is a guy – separating man from mania years after recovery from bipolar disorder

This past week marked a birthday of fifty-something for Andy Behrman. It wasn’t an age he thought he would reach when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his twenties. In his life a continent and two decades removed from when his life matched the pace of New York, he now spends his single father days with his young daughters, Emma and Kate.

“The penne is too…penne,” Kate says, over a plate of pasta at Cheesecake Factory. A family outing in the suburbs of southern California presents a wild contrast from Andy’s birthday twenty years ago, spent in a work-release facility after he was convicted of art forgery and fraud in a New York federal court. The book, Electroboy, is approaching its thirteenth birthday and covered mostly events in the 1990s that led to upper class nice Jewish young man Andy’s criminal involvement. With the growing pains of the book’s adolescence, Andy is working with a new team on bringing the book to the big screen.

The root of his issues as a young man was bipolar disorder — a mental illness characterized by extremes of wild mania: impulsive spending, sleeplessness, hypersexuality, high energy, poor judgment, sometimes rages and uncontrollable wild behavior, and followed by a crash into depression. Before his diagnosis, Andy used the manic energy to his advantage, brokering huge public relations deals and landing a job with a major art dealership. The impulsivity built up, and he traveled along with a coworker on a scheme to forge paintings and sell them for profit. It was a great gig until it fell apart and it landed him in jail.

A few years later, the book was published by Random House to a lot of noise.

“Perhaps because i had been a promoter for years, the book became successful and there was a lot of media attention surrounding it (and oddly, glamour – – parties thrown by Tina Brown, blah, blah, blah). But finally, mental illness was being openly discussed (in a raw and gritty way – – and with a funny guy doing the talking) all the way back in 2002. And then came my anti-pharma campaign, after working as the spokesman who launched Abilify for Bristol Myers Squibb and ended in me coming clean and telling the media what i really knew (i.e. cover of the Wall Street Journal). everything since 2002 – – since Electroboy was published – – has been, in my mind, blown up in the media.”

Something as shocking — if you will — as electroshock therapy became glamorous and for a while Electroboy, with it’s bright yellow and contrast black cover, became the book everyone read on the subway and in the therapist’s office.

Andy’s need for a more relaxed lifestyle and his then-wife’s career in film development precipitated their move to laid back southern California. Soon thereafter, Kate was born, debuted in an interview at the Behrman’s home in a video produced by Stephen Fry. A year later, Emma was born. Family life had a stabilizing effect on Behrman and he had no more arrests or hospitalizations. In his divorce, he was considered the stable parent and now has full custody of Kate and Emma. Behrman continues to be a mental health advocate.