By Tine Roycroft
John Morello never set out to change the lives of kids, teens, and college students across New England ~ across the entire US, in fact ~ but the job has fallen into his lap and he’s flying with the task. Morello, 40, is the playwright, director and actor in the one-man show “Dirt” ~ a show with four characters who tell tales of drugs and alcohol and consequences, but ~ above all ~ remind audience members that they all have the power of choice. Driving Morello is a belief that young people do not need flashing lights, “just say no” cliches, and some multimedia circus production. “Young people,” he says, “like all of us, want honesty and something real. In this time of information and communication overload I want to keep it simple.”
Morello typically performs “Dirt” in front of middle school and high school audiences, but he’s also brought his talents to camps, retreats, and college orientations. Four characters create the show ~ There’s David, who’s tangled up in Ecstasy and prescription drugs and wondering about the meaning of life. There’s Jason ~ a stoner who, on the surface, may seem like a loser but has a deep grasp and understanding of the world around him. Melissa is a young girl who has smarts but turns to alcohol to forget a specific night of her life. And then there’s Hank, a WWII veteran who reminds everyone that life is about choices.
Morello, who lives in Worcester and spent many years of his youth involved in theatre here, enjoys playing all the characters in the show, but his favorite has shifted over the seven years he’s been doing the show.
“It’s kinda changed as the show has gone on,” Morello says. “In the early days, I used to really like doing Hank ~ the character which was based on my dad, a WWII veteran who has since passed two years ago. I had a pretty strong sense of what he did for the country and what he meant to me. He was sick at the time and it felt like a nice way of honoring the things he did for me. It was very personal. In recent years, I’ve really enjoyed doing Melissa in the show. She’s got a sort of dark and twisted sense of humor. She’s had some stuff go wrong in her life and her responses to it are kind of dark and really therapeutic,” he says.
Morello admits that during his earlier years, he was a bit of a troublemaker until one day when a teacher, who likely had put up with enough of Morello’s humorous shenanigans, told him to get up in front of the class and do some stand up. Morello did as he was told. His teacher was impressed with Morello’s skills and reached out to the school’s theatre teacher, suggesting that if they were going to make a positive connection with the young student, it would probably have to be through theatre.
Morello began acting in several plays and ultimately attended Evangeline University for theatre. With a degree in hand, he admits that he was waiting, with the typical naïveté of a 22-year old, for Hollywood to call. Morello hit the streets and auditioned, but because he did not sing or dance, he was limited to drama and did a great deal of Shakespeare throughout Massachusetts. Throughout his shows, he always kept a makeshift journal ~ monologues written on napkins and stored in backpacks, random thoughts scribbled on paper and stacked in shoeboxes. But at the time, Morello had no idea what to do with his growing collection of ideas.
“Then it hit me that I was going to put all of these ideas into a show,” Morello remembers. “My brother was addicted to heroin at the time. So I had all these feelings about his addiction and watching him struggle. I started writing it and just thinking and ruminating about the causes of addiction. “ In the end “Dirt” addresses the core reasons for substance abuse such as self esteem, depression, and a desire to find a purpose in this often chaotic life.
Today, Morello’s show is touching the hearts of thousands of people. They write and email him, letting him know of the profound effect he has had on their lives. Morello intends to stick with “Dirt” but plans to write yet another show in the future, possibly shifting the focus from drugs to personal choices and bullying. But no matter the show, he intends to maintain a writing formula which has brought him his success.
“Really the only way to write ~ and you can’t write with kids in mind or with a specific audience in mind ~ you have to write your truths,” advises Morello. “If people connect with it ~ awesome. But you have to stay true to yourself. “
For more information on John Morello or “Dirt,” visit www.iamdirt.com. Be sure to check out a video clip of “Dirt” and its characters by clicking on the “Media” tab at the top of the home page.
The New York Times calls John Morello’s “Dirt” “…Mordantly funny…a new weapon in the war against bad choices: laughter. Gloriously irreverent laughter.”