The piece placed first in three of six competitions. The next show will be hosted at Eastern on April 29.
The swooshing of lilac flags harmonized with the clanking of chains as performers gyrated on an ombré mat that subtly eased from shades of black toward a white oasis.
The mat serves as more than just scenery. It’s also a depiction of the journey toward recovery after a battle with addiction.
“Breaking the Chains of Addictions,” is an award-winning performance by Eastern Regional High School’s indoor color guard, which clinched first place in three of its six competitions since February.
The team is now taking its thought-provoking piece to the Regional 1 Championship, which Eastern is hosting on April 29, as well as the Atlantic Coast Championship in Wildwood next month.
While it may seem color guard is an unlikely canvas on which to paint the picture of substance abuse, Eastern students say the activity’s fusion of movement and music is an effective medium in conveying the message.
“Color guard is a really visually heavy activity,” said junior Denise Dacanay. “So, when I see color guard, I see different possibilities of expressing emotion. When I see people spilling out their emotions with different kinds of equipment, I just feel something. And when you see people dance with different types of equipment, I also feel how they feel. And it’s a new, refreshing type of way to see (addiction).”
This is the first time in recent years the team is tackling a serious topic, as last season’s theme surrounded around romance.
Just in the past couple of years, Eastern’s color guard has seen a dramatic amount of success, as after placing last in the 2016 final competition, the team placed first at Chapter 1 Championships and third at Atlantic Coast Championships. It was also promoted from Intermediate A Class to A Class for the 2018 season.
Along with flags, rifles and sabers, Eastern is implementing chains into its landscape of color guard equipment.
The chains serve as a focal point for the show’s narrative, as performers tell the overarching story of addiction — suffering, seeking help and then recovery. Gradually, performers ease from the darkest corner of the mat to the lightest.
“Whenever I see a message being told, it’s usually through music or dance,” said sophomore Hunter Smith. “But, color guard combines those two and also adds in yet another layer with the flag, rifles and sabers. So, I feel like it takes a way that message is that is usually sent but just adds onto it.”
Color guard members come from all corners of performance, including theater, dance and gymnastics. While some tackle turns and others conquer facial expressions, such talent is peppered throughout the piece.
“Everyone has something that they’re good at, and we always find a way to put it in the show,” said senior and captain Devin Heller.
“What we can’t emote with our flags (Savannah Mccaulley) can emote with her body,” said senior and captain Lizzy Sulecki, referring to one of the lead dancers.
Many students say addiction is an issue they know well, sharing their experiences of knowing someone suffering from the disease. But the performance marks something much greater for its audiences, as opioids killed nearly 42,000 people in 2016, which is more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For performers, the piece is not solely about shedding light on this epidemic but encouraging viewers that the road to recovery is paved with possibility.
“People tell us that they have people who are affected by (addiction) and that the show really moved them,” Heller said. “We also hope, that if people are struggling and they see our show, that they can get help.”
Set to the sounds of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and quotes recorded by the performers, five panels illustrating the reality of addiction work as backdrops. By the end of the piece, the sets have graduated to the corner of the mat, unveiling the white haven and a message reading “You are not alone.”
“We slowly move the backdrops back, revealing that there is hope,” said sophomore Josiah Boddie. “And at the end of the show, everyone is in the area of complete recovery.”
Students say that since the theme’s November conception, the piece has been tweaked several times, especially after competitions.
Yet, while, the music and movement may metamorphosize, the message remains unwavered.
“I was determined to do my best, because I know a lot of people have been affected by the opioid crisis,” Dacanay said. “My emotions kind of take over and it helps my performance.”
NJ Addictions Services Hotline can be reached at 1–844–276–2777.