The painting that proved healing for a longtime Marion artist will now appear in a TV series that many people hope may raise curative awareness about the opioid epidemic.
The producers of “Dopesick” are leasing Marion native Duane Cregger’s painting, Rabbitrine, for use on one of their sets. The upcoming Hulu eight-episode limited series is slated to begin filming Wednesday. The series, inspired by the bestselling book “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America” by Roanoke author Beth Macy, will film in Central Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley, and the Roanoke regions.
Developed by writer and executive producer Danny Strong, Dopesick offers a look into the epicenter of America’s struggle with opioid addiction. The show, according to a Governor’s Office press release, “will take viewers from a mining community to the hallways of the Drug Enforcement Administration, to the opulence of ‘one percenter’ Big Pharma Manhattan, intertwining the stories of affected families to reveal the state of addiction in America, while shining a hopeful light on the heroes battling an unprecedented drug epidemic.”
Cregger imagines that his large oil painting -- two panels that measure 48x72x2.25 inches – will be used in the setting for a corporate scene of the series that will feature Academy Award-nominated actor Michael Keaton (Birdman, Spotlight) as its executive producer and star.
The cast will also feature Peter Sarsgaard (Jackie, An Education), Rosario Dawson (Rent, Luke Cage) and Kaitlyn Dever (Unbelievable, Booksmart). Barry Levinson (Rain Man) will direct the project.
Announcing the news on Facebook, Cregger commented, “What an honor!”
He noted that the painting has been shown at the former Art on 16 Contemporary Gallery, Olin Galleries at Roanoke College, Artspace Richmond, and finally at Crossroads Art Center.
Production staff discovered the painting at Crossroads Art Center in Richmond.
This week, Cregger said, the series will lease the painting for four months and he’ll receive a stipend for its use.
Cregger, who has been painting professionally for nearly 20 years, began his career in a studio he set up in the grease room of his grandmother’s former Sugar Grove gas station-grocery store. Cregger established that first studio when he moved back to Smyth County from D.C. in 2005 to be closer to his grandmother, whom he then called his best friend. He’d always been creative and had studied art in college, but used those skills in graphic design until 2003. Then, he said, a feeling overcame him. “I had something inside of me; I just wanted to paint.”
Through painting, Cregger tries to make sense of what’s happening. Created last year, the artist said, Rabbitrine helped him heal from old but powerful wounds.
Growing up here, Cregger said, he suffered significant bullying for being gay. The mistreatment and intimidation came from teachers, fellow students, random adults and even family members, he said.
As Cregger was starting to create Rabbitrine, he was talking to his sister about the bullying. As he talked, he made a tic mark. Then another and another – tic, tic, tic – until thousands filled the canvases.
Cregger remembered, “As I was telling her about the experience, I was counting off the times I’d been hurt.”
He called the experience “a major catharsis,” saying, “It released a flood of healing.”
That the act of making a mark carries meaning is one of the odd but wonderful aspects of abstract art, said Cregger.
The name Rabbitrine came from Cregger feeling as if he’d gone down a rabbit hole and kept diving downward. Afterward, he said, came a “whole cascade of seeing differently.”
Rabbitrine served as a pivotal piece in Cregger’s show at Olin Galleries at Roanoke College, where even some of the people who bullied him saw the work – another moment of healing.
Cregger, who recently announced his engagement, is soon moving to Richmond, where his new home is being built. He’s sold his Marion house and much of his furniture. He’s excited to start a new chapter of life with a clean slate.
However, Cregger is also grateful for his recent years living in his hometown, saying he’s learned so much more about himself. “I wouldn’t trade it…. I feel like I’ve found my voice here.”
Cregger won’t be the only one to benefit from the series shooting in Virginia.
“Film productions act like super tourists—spending large amounts in a short period of time and touching local businesses large and small,” said Virginia Film Office Director Andy Edmunds in a press release. “We’re excited that the commonwealth’s hard work and credentials have once again attracted a production of this scope and caliber. The added benefit of hosting a project that can provide vital awareness and change lives is truly immeasurable.”
Other major productions that have filmed recently in Virginia include The Walking Dead: World Beyond; SHOWTIME’s critically-acclaimed limited series The Good Lord Bird; and Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman 1984.
“Virginia continues to be a premier production hub for filmmakers seeking an authentic, film-friendly environment and a home away from home,” said Gov. Ralph Northam in the release. “It is wonderful to see this story from a Virginia author transformed from page to screen right here in our commonwealth. We are honored to host the impressive team behind this compelling and consequential project, and to play a role in putting a universal spotlight on the opioid epidemic that continues to devastate American families and communities from all walks of life.”
The book “Dopesick,” a New York Times bestseller, won critical acclaim. It was one of the New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2018, winner of the 2019 Library of Virginia People's Choice Award in Nonfiction, LA Times Book Prize for Science & Technology winner, an American Society of Addiction Medicine Annual Media Award winner, and an NPR's On Point Top Title of 2018 among other awards.