- ARDEO: From Page to Stage
In 2003, my mother, who had worked for many years as a nurse, was injured while working with a patient. Initially, she was told that the pain she felt was associated with arthritis. It wasn’t until she had an MRI that she understood the true extent of her injury. She had her first back surgery in 2008 and went back to work. She couldn’t afford not to work and continued to push through excruciating pain. It wasn’t until after her second surgery in 2010 that her body no longer allowed her to put in the long, strenuous hours of a nurse.
As I watched her healthcare team attend to the needs of her body, I longed for them to address her psychological health: how this injury would shift who she is in the world. On the other hand, outside of asking her how she was adjusting and encouraging her through physical therapy, I myself didn’t know what more I could do to help her or patients like her adjust to life after dramatic physical change for her or for other patients like her. Sometimes, however, the stars align and a change of circumstances place you exactly where you need to be in order to accomplish something unexpected and extraordinary.
In January of 2015, a couple of weeks after I started my new job as an assistant professor in the Department of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I attended a fascinating discussion about science and theatre. Hosted by the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a program of the National Academy of Science (NAS), JD Talasek, the director of cultural programs at NAS, gathered Washington, D.C.–area theatre artists, administrators, and scholars to gauge their interest in producing and writing plays about science.
After a roundtable of introductions, choreographer, performer, and educator Liz Lerman spoke about her recent project, The Matter of Origins. Key points from her talk that resonated with me were:
• Both theatre and science exist in a space of inquiry. Artists and scientists seek knowledge and understanding about the world through their work.
• Artists can help scientists communicate thoughts, discoveries, and challenges to a wider public community in compelling and creative ways.
• Scientists can help artists see the power and impact of the research and discovery.
• Also, scientific research structures can help artists understand the importance, even the necessity of failure in the development of a new work.
This meeting was invigorating and deeply informative. It inspired research for a new play that I was beginning to write called Among These Wild Things, which explores intersections between human rights and genetics. It also reignited an interest in narrative medicine that began as I watched my mother recover from her multiple surgeries. I felt called to focus on a play that would put narrative medicine at the center of its explorations.
When I returned to Chapel Hill, I shared this idea with Adam Versenyi (chair of the Department of Dramatic Art) and he introduced me to Bruce Cairns, the director of the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center. Together, Dr. Cairns and I began to think of ways to collaborate. Our opportunity came in April 2015 when I applied for and was awarded a Kenan Creative Collaboratory grant to [End Page E-1] research, write, and develop ARDEO, a one-act play inspired by personal narratives of healthcare practitioners and patients at the Jaycee Burn Center.
With the support of Jules Odendahl-James, who served as our dramaturg and research consultant, and Nicole Damari, a UNC–Chapel Hill medical student who helped me craft research questions and took and transcribed copious notes, I got to work. In February, I spoke with former patients and healthcare practitioners. I spent the first two weeks of March researching the history of the Jaycee Burn Center, the educational backgrounds and career paths of various healthcare professionals involved in catastrophic medical care, and the varied recovery journeys of burn victims. From the end of March and all of April I wrote the play.
In May, we had a weeklong new-play development workshop and rehearsal. With...