I am reminded time and time again of the transformative power of theater.
For the past six years, Workshop Players Theatre’s improv troupe has been fortunate enough to travel to Mercy Hospital Rehabilitation Center in Lorain twice a month to work with patients. Everyone we’ve encountered has been in a wheelchair. Some have had strokes. Others have had knee or hip replacements. All have been there to take part in the daily physical therapy.
It all began with the seed of an idea hatched by Edie Hutchison, Mercy’s (Lorain campus) recreation therapist. “If patients could be actively involved with their imaginations, then perhaps, their pain could go away, at least for awhile,” she said.
Armed with her resolve and my background in improvisational theater, we began. Gary was one of the first patients involved during our first month. That was six years ago and he’s been coming in, in his wheelchair, from home ever since to join in the fun.
One day a young lady was pushed into the circle as Edie went to bring others in and she spewed complaints about her day non-stop. Therapy had not gone well. She had been able to do things yesterday that she could not do today. Lunch was terrible. Her leg hurt. She didn’t know when she was going to be able to go home.
I admit it. I was worried that her negativity would cast a pall over the entire session, but we opened with a favorite of mine, “Nursery Rhymes With An Attitude.” Patients were to take a simple nursery rhyme and “deliver” it with two totally different attitudes. She drew Humpty Dumpty from my stack of possibilities and did two absolute Academy Award-winning performances, first with great sadness at the loss, then with tremendous disgust that Humpty had been so stupid. She was a leader the rest of the hour!
We’ve taken in hats and used them to create characters that the hats seem to dictate. We’ve created commercials for crazy products. We’ve invented stories based on bags of props. We’ve done situational improvs. We’ve made tableaux to show emotions. We’ve made a cane into as many different objects as possible. We’ve played the Party Game, Guesstures, Taboo, Press Conference, and we’ve even told knock-knock jokes. Most of all, though, we’ve laughed and laughed and laughed.
Some of the patients have been so skilled we’ve urged them to come and audition at Workshop! Many have pledged to at least come to see our plays. Gary, for one, is often front and center at our shows, loving his connection with us and ours with him. Best of all is watching the pain melt away, just like Edie predicted.
Sadly, the grants have come to an end. Most of all dinner time has been moved up, crowding out our time.
The majority of patients are in therapy until 4 p.m., so our usual time was from 4-5 p.m., but with dinner delivered sometime between 4:15 and 4:30, things became difficult. We are grateful to Edie for having had six beautiful years to work with those healing through the programs at Mercy.
I know that Claude, Virginia, Dave, Kevin, and I will cherish many “Mercy moments,” content in our resolve that theater does, indeed, make a difference.
Pat Gorske Price graduated from Oberlin High School and taught English and drama there for 12 years. In retirement she continues to enjoy writing and theater. Comments can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org.