Looking at Modern-Day Substance Abuse Through A 2,500-Year-Old Lens

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Actors Michael Stahl-David (Cloverfield), Keith David (Crash), and Tate Ellington (The Good Wife) will go ancient Greek—minus the togas—for The Dionysus Project, a live reading from Euripides’ Bacchae followed by an interactive discussion at UCLA this Thursday. If it’s been awhile since you cracked open the classic, the centuries-old play tells the story of one family’s tragic experience with what is now described as substance abuse.

The performance—put on by social impact company Outside the Wire, The Partnership at Drugfree.org, and Phoenix House, a substance abuse treatment and prevention provider—aims to raise questions about the relationship between drugs, alcohol, and the arts, and will be followed by a group discussion on the topic. 

We rang up Ellington, who has not struggled with substance abuse, to ask about the event, the prevalence of drugs and alcohol in his Hollywood circle, and why he thinks artist types are susceptible to addiction. Here’s what he said:

“There are so many artistic and creative people that I’ve come across who have never touched a drop of anything. They’re 100% super motivated and don’t feel that they need a crutch or something to help them become creative. But I’ve certainly found myself drinking alone at night to paint or write, and so I’ve had to try and avoid those things because it does eventually become a problem. I can have a drink and not ever need one again if I decide I don’t want to, but I know people who simply can’t.”

“In creative work, you put yourself out there so much for what you want and what you’re trying to get across, what you want to connect to other people with, and that makes you very vulnerable to being hurt. I think a lot of times it’s easier to go to a substance to help you defend against that, to allow yourself to be as free as you want to be in your writing and your acting and your painting and all your endeavors. It helps you guard yourself—but it’s important to remember that it can also destroy you.” 

The Dionysus Project event is free and open to the public, with readings scheduled at 1:30 and 6 p.m in the Little Theater.