Steps and Stages: Y-Haven Theatre Project, CPT mark 25 years with ‘Troubled Waters’

Since 1999, the YMCA of Greater Cleveland and Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT) have collaborated to produce annual original theater productions that are based on the lives of Y-Haven Treatment and Recovery Center residents.

The Y-Haven residents also perform compelling plays as an outlet for the struggles they face with addiction and looming homelessness.

As the Steps and Stages collaboration and productions enter their 25th year, the actors will take the stage this weekend in “Troubled Waters”­—bringing to life their own stories of empowerment and survival they have faced.  

Based on true stories of empowerment and survival and co-written by members of this year’s Y-Haven Theatre Project, “Troubled Waters” focuses on the residents of a cursed city in the middle of a draught who find themselves engulfed in darkness—even when the sun is shining.

When rain begins to fall, it appears as though their prayers have been answered. However, as the waters continue to rise, they must search within to break the curse and build anew.

Tamika Wiley and Jason StubbsTamika Wiley and Jason StubbsTwo of the actors in this year’s production are Tamika Wiley, who plays Lilly, and Jason Stubbs, who plays Mike.

“I am a concerned granddaughter of a grandfather and I play the part of just really being concerned,” says Wiley of her role. “[Lily] also has a small secret because she had a history with one of the other characters, and her feelings are still hidden, but they come up and they are expressed. [Lily] also doesn't know the secret that [her] grandfather has.”

Wiley says both Y-Haven and acting have helped her in healing and sobriety.

“I'm overwhelmed with emotions. First time. But I was a New Yorker for 21 years, so I've seen a lot of plays on stage and just always wanted to be a part of it,” she says. “Now that Y-Haven and Cleveland Public Theatre have given me that opportunity, it's been amazing. I've learned to not only share my story, but I’ve learned the stories of my peers and my castmates. We’ve been able to really get in touch with each other and bond with each other.”

Stubbs, who has been sober for five-and-a-half months, says he has appreciated both the opportunity to be on stage and the bonding with the cast, which has been rehearsing since October.

“To me, the highlight would be getting to know my fellow castmates and learning their own personal stories,” he says. “[I like] each one of us collaborating together and just enjoying this whole experience together.”

The bond formed at Y-Haven and during rehearsals for “Troubled Waters” has paid off for both Stubbs and Wiley. While giving a television interview about the play, the pair were later approached by a casting agent and have been given the opportunity to appear in film down the road.

“You never know what type of opportunities you can be given when you just focus on getting yourself together and being productive in society,” says Wiley, adding that she now refers to Stubbs as “her partner.”

“Y-Haven and CPT have given me the opportunity to not only get experience and check off something on my bucket list but also allow me growth,” she adds.

Y-Haven executive director Ed Gemerchak says Stubbs’ and Wiley’s experiences are the reason the Steps and Stages program has lasted for 25 years.  

Y-Haven Theatre ProjectY-Haven Theatre Project“It's really become part of our character, part of the culture here at Y-Haven to do this play every year,” he says. “There is a remarkable bond that develops among the cast, and Tamika and Jason pointed that out.”

Gemerchak says many of the actors have never been on stage before participating in Steps and Stages, so the acting experience is a healthy way to try something new.

“The behavior or the actions they were taking weren't working for them before, so they come to Y-Haven, stop using drugs and alcohol, and also make some fundamental changes in their life. And so the third thing is that acting in the theater is another way to communicate and express feelings and hopes and dreams that we don't typically have a chance to do.”

Free performances of “Troubled Waters” will be at CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 25. and on Friday, Jan. 26, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 28. A special benefit performance will be held on Saturday, Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m. and includes an appetizer reception. Tickets start at $100 per person.

Gemerchak says “Troubled Waters” will also be performed at Y-Haven, in front of all 200 residents, before the cast travels to Oberlin College for a performance.

“It's a great way to kind of share the message about what Y-Haven is to the community,” he says. “So I've invited all my friends to see it because it's inspirational, and it's an interesting message about struggles and transformation. And it's fun.”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.