They are all inked in remembrance: A simple fish tattooed on an ankle, initials ornately wrapped around a wrist, the word "ohana" adorning the ribs, a colorful fox emblazoned around an arm.
These tattoos serve as the backdrop for Left in Ink, a new play at Cleveland Public Theatre running May 15 through 31. Caitlin Lewins, a story connector and Joan Yellen Horvitz Director Fellow at Cleveland Public Theatre, created the show after losing a brother and a cousin to suicide. Based on extended interviews of those impacted by suicide, her play illustrates both sides of grief and recovery as five actors play both the ones left behind and those they lost.
While coping with her own heartbreak, Lewins was struck by survivors tattooing themselves to remember. "I was really intrigued by how people were memorializing or honoring their loved ones," she says. "So many people that I knew, and people that I never would expect to get a tattoo, got tattoos." In addition to her interviewees, Lewins collected more than 30 tattoos and stories from survivors using Facebook, all of which inspired the play.
"Suicide to me sometimes feels like a brand, like there's a mark on you," says Lewins. "So the tattoo thing is in the way of memorializing, and in the way of you're almost marked forever."