React play depicts opioid addiction


React children’s theater director Justin Wade understands how devastating opioid addiction can be because he lived it.

“I ended up being a homeless heroin addict on the streets when I was younger,” Wade said. “I’ve been over a decade clean from heroin. I’ve always wanted to use my business to give back to all the people who helped me get clean and helped me.”

React, which was formerly known as Young Actors Theatre, will present “Love Over Dose” April 14-15 at Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre, 705 N. Illinois St., Indianapolis. The hour-long shows are at 6 and 8 p.m. each evening. There are 18 rotating cast members in the four performances.

Wade, 47, is React’s executive director, and his wife, Georgeanna Smith Wade, is the artistic director. The couple lives in Lawrence.

Smith Wade was the lead writer on the play.

“Through the process, we met with probation officers, we met with people in recovery and people with active use, and we met with a neuroscientist who specializes in teenage addictions,” Smith Wade said. “We met with first responders. We compiled our research in the devising process, we don’t start with a script. We start with an idea or a question. The idea was how do we create a compelling story, which isn’t a just say no to drugs message because data shows that is not the more effective prevention tool.”

Smith Wade said the kids started creating characters and she took the characters and wrote a narrative.

Shortly before the pandemic shut down performances in March 2020, “Love Over Dose” was presented at Fishers High School.

“The vision is to get as many high school students to see it as possible,” Wade said

The project started in 2019 after receiving a $150,000 grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.

Young Actors Theater was started in 1976 by Charlotte Kaufman. Wade took over the program in 2005 and it was rebranded to React during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, he helped Kaufman for several years.

“We have a new vision of building around original works as part of the rebranding,” Wade said.

Wade said Young Actors Theater helped him get through his rehab stints and getting clean.

“If there was any grounding in my life, it was coming from this and (Kaufman) believing in my talent,” Wade said. “I always say I probably wouldn’t have hired myself now, but for some reason she stuck with me through it all.”

Wade said his heroin addiction began when he was 22 and ended in his 30s.

“I started using drugs when I was in the seventh grade at Belzer Middle School,” the Lawrence Central High School graduate said.

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