March 15, 2013

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Local Dramatist Enjoys Play’s Encore at HCC

By Sam Rosoff

BRIDGEPORT - This past Valentine’s Day, an encore performance of the play “Grandma’s Alley” was shown at Housatonic Community College. It was written, directed, and produced by Tammie Smith, an HCC student, mother of five, and an up-and-coming playwright.

“Grandma’s Alley” first premiered at HCC last November, where Smith worked with Theater Arts Professor Geoffrey Sheehan to produce it. The play, originally envisioned as a fundraiser for the Re-Entry Ministry rehabilitation center that helps women with addiction problems, shows the trials and tribulations of discovering one’s religious spirituality.

Smith her had a troubled past and did find help… and wanted to use this experience to help others. That prompted her to join the staff at the rehabilitation center.

Smith had experienced what the women at the ministry were experiencing, and she knew she could help them. “I don’t want to see people live life to the minimum, I want to see people live life to the maximum,” Smith said. “I still want to reach people.”

With this goal in mind, she crafted the play. She first thought of using the play as a means to raise funds for the ministry. When the idea didn’t gain traction, she felt the urge to fulfill this creative desire as if it was burning flame to be ignited. “I was driven by that time. Creating the play was something I needed to do for myself,” Smith said.
At the time, she was a student at HCC, and after talking about the play with another student, she approached Sheehan. “He walked me through a lot of the process, up until the day we debuted,” Smith said. “He sat right next to me for the whole show, which was great.”

For the most recent performance, Student Activities Director Linda Bayusik approached Smith to bring the play back, this time as part of Black History Month. They had to use a slightly different cast, but Smith said they pulled it off. “It let me know that we are resilient,” Smith said, “and just like the premise of the play, no matter what happens, if we work with it and trust God, we can get through it.”

Through song and dance, the show follows the stories of multiple families and covers serious issues from domestic violence, alcoholism, molestation, and cancer. The play shows prayer as a way that characters can change their outlook on life and helps them to work towards a solution to their problems. “I believe that when we pray to God,” Smith said, “He then in turn gives us the strength to endure a problem and to get through it. Not to fix it, and not to wipe it away, but to get through it.”

Smith is currently in the process of writing her next play, entitled “Broken Promises,” which is slated to premiere on November 1, the same date as her first play’s premiere. “Promises” focuses on one family, in which a father doesn’t want his two children to succeed at their dreams of becoming entertainers, because he stopped pursuing similar dreams earlier in life. She said it’s not about the promises that people make and break with each other, but rather about breaking promises people make to themselves. “Hopefully it will inspire people to chase after your dreams,” Smith said. “No matter what anybody says, go for it and go big, because you can do it. If you can see it, you can be it.”

Smith plans to graduate from HCC next year with a degree in Human Services. She hopes to work as a drug counselor, and currently interns with the dually diagnosed population (patients with both mental illness and substance abuse problems) at Bridgeport Hospital’s Mental Health Services program.

However, she still plans to continue her relationship with HCC. “I’ve had conversations about maybe teaching a course on playwriting and production,” Smith said. “I’m going to get my bachelor’s as well but I still have this feeling that I’d love to continue working with Housatonic.”

Sam Rosoff is a journalism intern at Housatonic Community College.