Gregory Emory-White has always wanted to be on stage and in the spotlight, but he didn’t think it was possible. “This was a dream of mine, I always wanted to be an actor,” he says. “But I thought I had to go to Hollywood.”
Instead, Emory-White stayed in East Cleveland, where he grew up, and put his dream to the side. His mother died, then his father died, and he became homeless and addicted to crack cocaine.
Gregory Emory-WhiteLast year, Emory-White decided to make a change. He turned to Y-Haven, a temporary housing and addiction treatment center in the Central neighborhood run by the YMCA of Greater Cleveland.
“I just got tired of it, I wasn’t raised like that,” Emory-White recalls. “It was time to grow up. I was tried of the way I was living. [My parents] dying was kind of a blessing for me. It opened my eyes to get it together.”
Sober for seven months now, the 56-year-old Emory-White is now also fulfilling his acting dream. He will be taking the stage tonight in the role of Jamari at Cleveland Public Theatre in the Y-Haven Theatre Project’s production of “In Our Wake,” which opens tonight, Thursday, Jan. 26 with a free performance at 7 p.m. and runs at various times this weekend.
“In Our Wake” tells the story of Amari, a woman who is trying to show up when she says she will, trying to finish what she starts, trying to do the right thing, for once. On the day of her mother’s wake, she goes on a journey to sort out her life. Along the path, she discovers that change and growth create a ripple effect she couldn’t have imagined.
“Amari is a girl who’s on drugs and trying to give back and it wasn’t working too well,” Emory-White explains. “But in the end, she was ready to get help. [It’s about] when we’re going through our journey in life, through our hardships, and we’re trying to get back to a normal way of living.”
Emory-White plays Jamari, Amari’s brother, along with other Y-Haven actors who play sister Tamara and Rose, their mother.
He saw the opportunity to launch the acting career he dreamed of. “When I heard they were doing casting, I said, ‘I’m going to audition, I’m going to shine, and I’m going to take it all the way,” he says. “I’m giving it my all, as long as it doesn’t mess with my recovery and staying on course to staying sober.”
The play was written in collaboration by the residents in the Y-Haven Theatre Project, who first gathered and shared their personal stories and then wrote them down and acted them out, says Y-Haven executive director Ed Germerchak.
“We crafted the play based on the stories they’ve heard, and the same themes [emerged],” says Germerchak. “A lot of them have said it helped with their recovery.”
Emory-White adds, “It’s based on all our lives—we took bits and pieces of our own true lives and wrote it down,” he says. “The whole play has meaning because we’ve lived through it.”
He says it has also been a good bonding experience. “We all come from different parts of the city, different walks of life, but we have a tight bond,” he says. “If it weren’t for Cleveland Public Theatre and Y-Haven—it gives us a chance to know a better life. We can accomplish better things [when we’re not] lifting a bottle or doing drugs.”
“In Our Wake” opens tonight, Thursday, Jan. 26 with free performances tonight, Friday, Jan. 27, and Sunday, Jan. 29. Showtimes are 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. A special Y-Haven benefit performance will be held Saturday, Jan. 28 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $100 and include an appetizer reception.