Metro Weekly

Into the Wild: En Garde Arts’ “Wilderness”

Based on real-life research, En Garde Arts' Wilderness explores an unorthodox therapy treatment for teens with troubles

Wilderness — Photo: Baranova Photography

“I just got back from camping with my family in Kings Canyon National Park in California,” says Luke Zimmerman. “It was a totally great experience, because all you have is yourself to depend on. You realize how you should never mistreat the body and the self that you have.”

Coincidentally, Zimmerman is part of the young ensemble in Wilderness, a multimedia theater piece from En Garde Arts that will play the Kennedy Center from October 12 to 15. Using real-life content and research as its springboard, the play explores a wilderness therapy program that helps young people cope with such issues as mental health, addiction, and sexual identity. The actor portrays a young man struggling with gender.

“Prior to coming to the wilderness program, [my character] was dealing with some major bullying issues, and all of the anxiety of coming out to his family,” says Zimmerman, who has been with the travelling production since July 2016. “All of that anxiety piled up on him and he started to have issues with lying, threatening, self-harm. The world he was living in got really fuzzy for him. It bubbled to a boiling point where they sent him to Wilderness to get him away from all of those negative stimuli.

“The reason they chose Wilderness, in particular, is because he had been in other treatment program where they wouldn’t put him with the boys’ group. They would put him in a girls group, which was even more traumatizing. Wilderness was one of the few programs that would allow him to attend as a transgender child in the first place, and put him with the proper male group.”

Zimmerman says the Wilderness program differs from treatments traditionally perceived as harsher. “If done properly, it’s about compassion and creativity and finding oneself in an introspective and natural way.”

Wilderness runs from Oct. 12-15 at the Kennedy Center Family Theater. Tickets are $29. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.

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