BY BEN RIMALOWER. Writer, director, performer, producer
Alcoholics Anonymous is turning 80 this year and its 14th International Conference will take place over the upcoming Fourth of July weekend in Atlanta, GA. With 100,000 recovered alcoholics hitting the streets of downtown Atlanta this summer, a flock of recovery-themed productions, film festivals and entertainers are scheduled to perform.
The serenity prayer and smoky church basements are now embedded in our cultural imagination. There are a number of popular plays and films about the history of Alcoholics Anonymous, the most famous arguably being My Name Is Bill, a made-for-TV movie starring James Wood, and most recently, Bill W. and Dr. Bob by Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey, which ran off-Broadway at the Soho Playhouse in 2013. The majority of these dramatizations focus on the story of the two founders, Bill Wilson and Robert “Dr. Bob” Smith. A unique new addition to this cannon has emerged and it will premiere in Atlanta during the week of the international conference.
Written and directed by Jackie B., the Artistic Director of Recovery Works Theater in San Francisco, Our Experience Has Taught Us is not your typical recovery yarn. It distinguishes itself with a grander and more communal scope, telling the group histories of the first A.A. gatherings in Ohio, New York and California, and the conflicts that led to A.A.’s adoption of “The Twelve Traditions.”
For a society that values “principles over personalities,” here at last is a play that looks beyond just Bill and Bob’s stories, and I suspect that both these men would be delighted to be out of the spotlight for once. Special attention in the play is in fact given to the first women, gays and lesbians, people of color and atheists in the movement. These little-known stories are responsible for some of the most uplifting and heartbreaking moments in the play.