I WAS NEVER ALONE is a play script by Cassandra Hartblay based on over 10 months of ethnographic fieldwork focused on the life experiences of adults living with mobility impairments in a provincial Russian city. The 90-minute play is comprised of six monologues or portraits, which are nearly entirely composed of quotes transcribed from ethnographic interviews with real people, whose life experiences form the inspiration for each character.

While the subject matter of the play centers the segregation of people with disabilities, the themes in the work – love, family, alienation from politics, and the desire for connection in a digital world – are universal.


Regan Linton as Vera, and Vladimir Rudak as Musician, during the October  2016 staged workshop of I WAS NEVER ALONE at UC San Diego’s Shank Theatre. Photo copyright Jim Carmody, please visit his website for a full gallery and contact him for usage requests.

Project History:

In 2012-2013 ethnographer and playwright Cassandra Hartblay conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Russia, living in a small regional city and interviewing people with disabilities, with funding from the National Science Foundation. Subsequently, Hartblay developed the script in a UNC-Chapel Hill Performance Studies seminar in 2015, with mentorship from Joseph Megel. In early 2016, the project was awarded a $25,000 Frontiers of Innovation Scholars Program (FISP) grant from the University of California at San Diego; Hartblay continued to develop the script, with project mentors Deborah Stein and Elana Zilberg, and seeking input from collaborators in Russia. This grant culminated in a two-week workshop and process production at UC San Diego with support from the Vice Chancellor’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and the Department of Communication in October 2016,  featuring Russian collaborator Vladimir Rudak live in person and performances by actors including Reagan Linton, Jason Dorwart, and Irina Dubova among others.

Press for the October 2016 Performance:

From the CityBeat “Three You Have to See ShortList”:

“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE – It’s easy to fall for the notion that Russia is a cold, bleak place. Granted, there isn’t much evidence to prove otherwise: Putin’s tyrannical policies, a maligned Winter Olympics and waging a devastating war against Syria are only some recent examples. I Was Never Alone—described as “a documentary play”—usurps these notions by presenting seven monologues (or “portraits”) composed entirely of quotes transcribed from interviews with Russians living with mobility impairments. Yes, the topic that binds these monologues—segregation from Russian society—doesn’t exactly inspire the warm fuzzies, but the underlying themes of love, connection and family are reminders that humanity can exist in the cold.”

Previous Performances:

The play was presented as a staged reading following a workshop in Performance Studies (with support from the Department of Communication, Arts @ The Core, and Medical Anthropology) at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in early February 2016. The staged readings were followed by an audience talk back session with the actors, director, and playwright-ethnographer (on February 5th) and a round table discussion with Jehanne Gheith (Duke University Russian and Gender Studies), Ann Millet-Gallant (UNC-G Disability Studies and Art History), Della Pollock (UNC-CH Performance Studies), Jane Thrailkill (UNC-CH English and Medical Humanities), Michele Rivkin-Fish (UNC-CH Medical Anthropology).

Press from the UNC-CH workshop included a radio interview with WCHL/Chapelboro’s Aaron Keck, and a review from NC arts blog CVNC.


The cast of the February 2016 staged reading of I WAS NEVER ALONE rehearses. Eight actors (young people of different genders and skin colors) are shown seated in front of a curtain, some on chairs or stools, others on their own mobility devices.


Cuquis Robledo performs the role of Alina during the February 2016 staged reading.

In January 2016, excerpts from the play were presented in a table reading and discussion as part of the Performance Ethnography Lab series of the Studio for Ethnographic Design at the University of California San Diego. The first draft, developed under the supervision of Joseph Megel in the Performance Studies program at UNC Chapel Hill, was completed and read in a process reading in May 2015 (and an early concept was developed in Renee Alexander Craft‘s graduate workshop in performance ethnography).

The work is intended to reach non-academic audiences.

During the summer of 2016, Dr. Hartblay workshopped the script for the play in Russia, in Russian, with the original research participants and collaborators. The Russian version of the script, developed in collaboration with Valeriya Markina, agrees line for line with the English version.

The research for this project was supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the UNC-CH Program in Sexuality Studies.

Please contact Cassandra for more information about this project. Donate to the project on IndieGoGo.