Positioned against the same Kermit-green wall he uses as a pseudo-sound stage for Zoom acting classes, School of Music, Theatre & Dance junior Oliver Klein spoke to The Michigan Daily via video call to talk about one of the only modes of artistic expression the pandemic has not drastically changed: film. 

A BFA Theatre Performance major, Klein began the fall semester by embarking on a journey to produce his short film “Addict,” which is also his directing debut. The movie follows a young college student, played by Music, Theatre & Dance junior and Theatre Performance major Sofia Angelopoulos, as she struggles with drug addiction and an unraveling mental state. Klein’s piece features a cast consisting of all Theatre Performance majors, whose coursework has been particularly hindered by the onset of COVID-19 and the transition to virtual classes. 

“This is a big thing for me, this semester in particular. Many SMTD projects are being canceled or modified to fit a virtual format,” Klein said. “I want this film to be like a beacon of light, so to speak.”

Klein continued, “The film is something the students can pour their heart and minds into and (it) keeps them busy and motivated. With all that’s going on this year, students are motivated more than ever to pursue art that they care about.”

In the context of the enduring COVID-19 pandemic, Klein believes the film will highlight how preexisting suffering has been compounded by our global state of affairs.

“‘Addict’ is a film about someone who’s struggling with very real issues,” Klein said. “People suffering from addiction have found little relief during a time of quarantining and global paranoia.”

The virus’s inherently “novel” nature means health care systems are pouring resources into their pandemic response while essential forms of mental healthcare like methadone clinics and Alcoholics Anonymous shift to virtual formats. As a result, “Many people are coping with their anxieties by using drugs, prescription or not, and it’s important for me to highlight how this pandemic has affected those individuals who are already suffering,” Klein said. 

Like many creative projects developed mid-quarantine, “Addict” was born from the newly-found freetime Klein experienced at the end of March, toward the beginning of Michigan’s stay-at-home order. While cooped up in his Ann Arbor apartment, Klein began developing the premise behind the film after receiving some difficult personal news. 

“I got the idea after finding out on social media that someone I had been close to passed away,” Klein said. “That got me thinking about addiction and drug abuse. So, I created a story that focused on the damaging effects of extended, unregulated drug use.”

While he has never tackled a project that is based entirely on themes like drug abuse, Klein has experienced several of the issues illustrated in “Addict” firsthand and hopes to challenge the stigma surrounding those issues — especially considering one in four people struggle with some form of mental illness.  

“Addiction and mental illness are subjects I actually understand on a personal level. I have tried all types of mood stabilizers and SSRIs to treat my chronic illness,” said Klein. “I wanted to write a film that focuses on some of the themes I struggle with on a daily basis. These are subjects people don’t talk about enough, whether they think they’re taboo or if they just don’t understand.”  

Klein also believes art can breed a newfound understanding of these issues: “It brings empathy to those people who have been assigned by society as ‘others’ or as ‘sick’ or ‘lazy,’” Klein said. 

And amid what has proven to be a turbulent year, Klein said “Addict” will serve an essential purpose. 

“There’s no denying the fact that this film is being produced during a historic period of time. There are new and important issues being put forward each day,” Klein said, referring to the evolving politics surrounding both the pandemic and the upcoming presidential election. 

Ultimately, Klein classifies the film as “an act of perseverance,” and “a demonstration that collaboration, thought, care and hard work are worth more than division and disarray.” He thinks “the truth is worth fighting for, worth communicating to those who need to hear it.”

Addict is being funded in part by University grants as well as online fundraising via an IndieGoGo profile that can be accessed here.

Daily Arts Writer Grace Tucker can be reached at tuckergr@umich.edu.

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