Central State University Theatre Arts Program students perform in NARCAN PSA

Posted Dec 06 2023
Asia Kimpson Thurgood Marshall College Fund Yard Ambassador in a NARCAN PSA produced by central state university

In late November, Central State University’s Division of Institutional Advancement — responsible for the school’s marketing and publicity — produced a five-minute PSA about the use of NARCAN. NARCAN is the brand name of Naloxone, a medicinal fluid used as part of a nasal spray kit that can save lives by resuscitating someone in the dangerous throes of a drug overdose.

The video features student and Thurgood Marshall College Fund Yard representative Asia Kimpson, Central State family nurse practitioner Connie Helmuth, CSU Police Department’s Sgt. Jose Jolliffe-Haas, CSU Police Chief Stephanie Hill, and two students from Central State’s Title IIII Theatre Arts Program’s Introduction to Drama class.

two students and a professor from central state university
Pictured are (from left) Devin Kenerson, adjunct professor John Fleming, and Dallas Sanders.

Chicago’s Devin Kenerson, a senior majoring in Hospitality, and Detroit native Dallas Sanders, a senior majoring in Educational Studies, are the two theatre students who took part in a dramatization of real-life characters discussed during the testimony given by Jolliffe-Haas. He shared his experience using NARCAN with a student who had overdosed and needed immediate medical attention.

“I’ve always liked theater and comedy and acting,” Kenerson said about his choice to take two performance classes during his time at Central State. “I did a little bit of acting with my brothers as a kid. And was always involved in the arts, too. Singing, acting, comedy. My family’s really deep into it. It’s always caught my interest.”

Kenerson continued that his family takes singing, in particular, quite seriously, and many members play instruments, as well. Kenerson’s father, a singer-songwriter, was raised by a mother who was in turn taught how to sing by gospel great Mahalia Jackson. 

As far as pursuing acting and performing arts, Kenerson added that he is taking whatever opportunities come to him while still focusing on his more practical career path of hospitality and keeping his focus on playing football as a walk-on receiver for Central State. 

Kenerson chose to be included in the NARCAN video due to his enjoyment in participating in whatever class activities come along.  

“It’s not just for participation points,” Kenerson said. “This is all a real interest of mine. Anything that comes up, I’m quick to leap into it.” 

As for the process of shooting his scene with directors Mathew Klickstein and Stanley Jefferson on a small classroom stage, Kenerson explained, “It was pretty much what I thought it would be. It’s a lot of starts and stops, a lot of tweaks and changes to what we’re doing.” 

Though, Kenerson concedes that “it was obviously on a smaller scale than something we might see on TV or in a movie, it was still what I was expecting, and I enjoyed the process very much. It was cool.” 

Kenerson laughed that “it was cool, again” when discussing the experience of seeing himself in the video’s dramatization via a big-screen projection as exhibited during the last class of the semester.  

“A lot of my classmates weren’t here the day that we shot it, so it was cool to see how everyone reacted to the final product, without having seen what we did to get it shot,” Kenerson said. 

The video hit home especially hard for Kenerson, who helped a fellow student in his freshman year go through a similar experience that is recounted by Jolliffe-Haas. Kenerson assisted a female schoolmate who was having a severe asthma attack after drinking too much alcohol. 

Sgt. Jose Jolliffe-Haas
Sgt. Jose Jolliffe-Haas

“Our mutual friend called me over to help, and we had to find the girl’s inhaler, which she couldn’t find and was so out of it from the drinking at the same time,” Kenerson elaborated. “I found her inhaler, and we ended up getting her back. But going through that with her and then having this video opportunity come up, it was good to help get a message out there to campus about this kind of thing.”

In addition to Introduction to Drama, Kenerson also took Intro to Comedy in his junior year, a class he enjoyed enough that he knew he wanted to take more through the Theatre Arts Program. 

“It’s been a great experience being in both classes,” Kenerson said. “I do hope people take the video here seriously. I was an RA once, too, and I had situations with residents where things got pretty bad, and they needed help. So, I hope people watch this video and listen to what the chief of police and other officers were talking about in it.” 

Sanders said she had not been aware of Central State’s Theatre Arts Program until a friend and fellow Marauder introduced her to it in her junior year. 

“I always wanted to do theater because I never had an opportunity to do it in high school,” Sanders said. “My school didn’t offer a drama program at all.”

Identifying herself as a creative person, Sanders sees herself as a “very artsy-crafty person, and I really want to explore my talents, try new things. I like to sing, I like to act, I like to be dramatic.”

She has a particular interest in musicals, such as her favorite, “Dreamgirls.” Last year, Sanders took part in the school’s production of “The Wiz.”   

Sanders said that she was not sure if she would like to perform once she had the chance to do so at Central State. Now that she has been given the opportunity to do so, she says she likes performing immensely. 

In addition to her work in “The Wiz,” Sanders last year participated in the program’s original production of “The Vampire Tales.” She is already lined up to perform in other smaller plays on campus and next semester’s spring musical. 

“I’m very open-minded, so if I see something that interests me, I’m always going to go forward and do it the best way I can,” Sanders said. 

Although she knew that the scene was something small, Sanders said she still wanted to prepare the best she could by researching online videos of actors and acting teachers talking about ways she could better her performance as a young woman passed out on the bathroom floor before being saved by Kenerson’s police sergeant savior.  

“I watched people talking about how to stay still, how to look like you’re not breathing, and all of that,” Sanders said. “But I also was definitely prepared by the class and pulled a few tricks that we were taught. A lot of it was about the confidence I had built up through the class, which was really a big help for me when it was time to shoot on stage.”

Though she says she was “a little giggly” when she saw herself in the video on the big-screen projection, Sanders explained that once she got over the “awkwardness” of seeing herself in such a strange position — a near-dead young woman passed out on the floor — she was very proud of the work she did and how well she had indeed been prepared by lessons learned in class. 

“I’ve been in a few other videos and live streams, but I never had to play ‘dead’ before, and so it was a little awkward to see myself at first,” Sanders said. “I was also just getting over food poisoning that day. So, the fact I was able to do it at all and do it so well is something that makes me proud for sure. It’s a serious video and I’m glad to be able to help spread the message in it, which is the importance of people using NARCAN to possibly save lives. 

“People who are struggling with opioid addiction should know they’re not alone, especially here where Central State has such a good therapy center. There are people you can talk to here and you need to just be real careful when you’re taking pills or whatever it is, that it’s only things that are prescribed by a doctor.” 

Adjunct professor John Fleming was delighted to have the opportunity to showcase students of his in such an important video that is being distributed around the campus and the region. He says he was also pleased that he could use both the shooting of the scene and the showing of it in class as learning opportunities for his students.

“Even more, it’s a different medium from theater,” Fleming said. “So, students had a chance to really see how the film and TV world works on some level. Which, of course, is 99.9% of what they see with entertainment anyway. This was a chance for them to see how some of that operates.” 

Fleming saw the opportunity as a hands-on exercise for students to experience — even if by proxy for those not in the scene — what goes on in an actual video shoot. 

“They were also able to have a chance to see what it would be like to be in other short pieces, like commercials, by watching how this project came together,” Fleming said. “It’s also of very special value because it’s a way to directly help students who might find themselves in a situation like that in the video or helping them better understand what they can do to get help if they’re struggling with opioid addiction.”  

Even though the video was short, Fleming was especially enthused by the confidence Kenerson and Sanders felt and clearly show in the video and which he agrees with the duo had been something he hoped to grant them through his work in class.