Dirt At Andover

I am dirt. I come from it. I feel like it. I walk on it. So said John Morello, star of the one-man show entitled “Dirt.” Morello performed on campus for last week’s Freedom from Chemical Dependency Week (FCD Week). He used his acting talent to present his message against substance abuse. “Dirt” consisted of six different characters, each with their own hidden skeletons. The characters included an ecstasy addict, a rape victim turned alcoholic and a troubled war veteran. Displaying a full range of voices and physiques, Morello’s six personas were very compelling. One student was strongly affected by the old veteran, who resembled his grandfather. “Whenever I smoke or do something wrong, I feel like I’m letting down my grandparents. They make me feel more guilty because I fight with my parents so much,” said the student. Some of Morello’s characters were drawn from his experiences growing up in both Detroit and Boston. He considered his childhood in the cities “high risk,” and admittted to heavy usage of marijuana throughout his high school career. Morello lost close friends and family to drugs and alcohol. In fact, it was the heroin-induced death of his brother that compelled him to perform “Dirt.” Morello has been working as a comedian and actor for 15 years now. He has toured with “Dirt” throughout the US and Canada. In addition to visiting different high schools with his show, he also teaches at a teen treatment center. As a goofy pothead in high school, Morello encountered a teacher who told him that if he applied himself, he could have some time at the start of class to tell jokes. So began his career as a standup comic. The comic relief gave the show an engaging air. One student commented that Morello’s sharp sense of humor kept him interested and awake – in contrast to some of his previous FCD workshops. Morello connected with the audience by referencing pop culture events and Andover specifics. As Morello changed characters, he used the familiar sounds of Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, the White Stripes and other popular bands to help ease transitions and bridge cultural bearings. Many of the students who entered the show with low expectations were surprised at how much they laughed at the jokes and the characters. Morello covered a lot of ground in his performance. One of the characters talked about marijuana as a gateway drug, while another spoke about her “social drinking.” Beyond drug issues, relationship insecurities were also addressed. Morello closed the show with the reading of a poem on which “Dirt” was based. To add to the powerful reading, he unveiled pictures of people lost to drug related issues. His website,, gives further information about the show, including a blog where he shares his experiences from performing. The majority of students walking out of “Dirt” were pleased with its humor and sincerity. “It was funny and serious at the same time,” said Roxanne Knapp ’07, who was among those who found it a worthwhile alternative to the usual required workshops. However, there were those less enthused by the show. Will Sherrill ’07 commented that “the characters seemed unrealistic and their problems were exaggerated.” Some students felt there were too many jokes for people to take his message seriously. “It made drugs sound cool,” commented one student. A few students felt that previous FCD workshops were more direct, as all of the stories were told from firsthand experiences. “I liked the way he didn’t preach about drugs, he just showed experiences with them. He let you make your own conclusions,” said Lola Dalrymple ’07. The show aimed to be thought provoking, more than anything else. It did not preach against drug abuse or push rehabilitation, rather it just gave a truthful look at the realities of drug use. Henry Wilmer, Instructor in French and co-head of the Andover Drug and Alcohol Awareness Committee (ADAAC) was mainly responsible for bringing “Dirt” to Phillips Academy. “As a member of ADAAC, I was really proud of what Mr. Wilmer did by bringing Mr. Morello to campus,” said Paz Mendez-Hodes ’07. Members of ADAAC were pleased with show’s reception. Because students could fulfill their entire FCD requirement with the performance, both Wednesday and Thursday’s shows had full turnouts. John Morello did not come to Andover to preach against drugs. He never directly criticized drugs or abuse. He came to build understanding of what substance abuse entails. Most importantly, he conveyed the message that everyone has the freedom of choice. Substance abuse is not a problem that is going to disappear anytime soon. Acknowledging this, Morello does not preach against drugs – rather, he educates about them. He only wishes that his added insight will help people make informed choices.