It is difficult to imagine trying to get sober with the support of only one friend or acquaintance who has been through it. And with a support group that is totally religious (the Oxford Group) – well, that’s not always something an alcoholic can stomach. No Twelve Step-based treatment centers, no Twelve Step meetings and no halfway houses to be had, and few, if any, other recovering alcoholics for support. This was the experience of both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith as portrayed in the play, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, by Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey.
Many people in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program know the story, but seeing it come to life on stage is a new experience. The play enacts the story of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith and how they went from addiction to recovery. It reveals how Bill W. was introduced to sobriety by Ebby Thatcher and his involvement in the Oxford Group, how Bill met Dr. Bob and helped him get sober, and how the two of them tried to help other alcoholics. Bill W. and Dr. Bob eventually met Billy Dotson, who later became the third AA member.
Bill W. and Dr. Bob is a moving play about the triumph of the human spirit, and about relationships and divine connections. As the two actresses playing Lois Wilson and Anne Smith pointed out to me during our first production, it is a love story. Through these two characters, we catch a glimpse of how Al-Anon may have started.
Like so many AA meetings, this play gives viewers a chance to laugh a little at themselves, perhaps to cry a little, but most of all, to feel. There are many touching moments – from Bill’s helpless, desperate admission to Lois that he doesn’t know why he can’t just stop drinking to Dr. Bob’s amends to Anne for all the pain he’s caused her.
My favorite scene is of Bill W. at the Mayflower Hotel in Akron, Ohio. He’d been in town a few days; his business deal had gone south; and he was just about to take that first drink – yet again. But God gave Bill what I believe God gives us all – a moment of clarity. In that moment, Bill realized he had to talk with another alcoholic in order to stay sober. Instead of drinking, he made some phone calls; much like my sponsor has so often reminded me to do. Only Bill wasn’t calling other alcoholics in recovery, he was trying to reach out to another drunk. As a result of those calls, he ended up meeting Dr. Bob; and, as they say, the rest is history.
In 2012, I had been sober eight years. Since 2002, I’d been acting and involved in all aspects of theatre in several venues around Houston. I began directing in 2012, and that’s when I found the Bill W. and Dr. Bob play. I had known the basic story about how Bill W. got sober and then how he helped Dr. Bob get sober, but I didn’t know a play had been written about their story. I ordered the script from the publisher and when I read it, I immediately felt a strong calling from God to produce the play.
Somehow, I knew God had been preparing me for years to produce a play about recovery. With encouragement from my wife and my sponsor, I set out to do just that. It was difficult, challenging, time-consuming, and there were times I didn’t think I’d get it done. But in my mind I kept hearing the words, If not me, then who? If not now, then when?
Six performances were planned over three weekends in June 2013. We rented a small Houston theatre that seats about 130 people. Ticket prices were kept low in order to attract many people through the doors. We had a great opening weekend, and by the next weekend the remaining four performances were sold out. We contacted the publisher and got the rights to do one more performance, which also sold out.
The audience responses were tremendous. We received many requests to do the play again the following year. As I had not broken even on the first production, I wasn’t sure about doing it again; however, we decided to go ahead and produce the play this past May. We held ten very successful performances in the same theatre; this time we made a profit. We were pleased to donate our proceeds to The 24 Hour Club and A Way Out Women’s Center, two local nonprofit detox centers for indigent people.
Today, I am humbled; and consider it a real privilege and honor to have been asked to produce the Bill W. and Dr. Bob play for performance in Atlanta, Georgia, during the week of the 2015 International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Our acting company and crew are very excited about this opportunity. If you appreciate a moving, poignant and at times humorous story, or if you just want a glimpse of what it was like for these two men during the early years of AA, come and see our play.
To produce Bill W. and Dr. Bob in your city or country, contact the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glenn Dodson developed his passion for the theatre in high school. He lives in Houston, Texas, where he is a theatre actor, director and producer. He has had many different roles in over 40 theatrical productions and has been directing plays since 2012. During the AA Convention week of July 2-5, the Bill W. and Dr. Bob play will be performed in the Rialto Theatre near the Georgia Dome and the Convention Center in Atlanta, Georgia.