Interactive Theater Opens Conversations About Breast Cancer

Published 10/07 2013 04:32PM

Updated 10/08 2013 09:49AM

(COLUMBIA, Mo.) "Theater is a wonderful means to understand the complexities of life," says University of Missouri Extension community arts specialist Lee Ann Woolery.

And few life experiences match the emotional complexities of breast cancer, which affects one of every eight women in the U.S.

Through interactive theater, MU Extension is opening conversations about breast cancer in rural communities throughout the state during October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Through a collaboration of MU Extension, MU's Theatre Department and the MU School of Medicine, "Breast Cancer Dialogues" will appear in six rural Missouri communities in the next year.

The three five-minute plays feature discussions between a woman diagnosed with breast cancer and her doctor. The audience is invited to interject, challenge, object and rewrite the script to allow a more caring dialogue between patient and health care provider.

"For some, it's a very touching moment. For others, they get very angry," Woolery said.

Heather Carver, MU associate professor of playwriting and performance studies, wrote the initial script after learning she had breast cancer in 2005. Carver created one-woman shows about her experience and later wrote a script for the MU Interactive Theatre Troupe to encourage health professionals to show compassion and empathy toward patients.

As she worked through her own diagnosis and treatment to become a survivor, she drew from other patients, doctors, nurses, caregivers and family members to turn real-life experiences into learning and teaching opportunities.

The play is performed for first-year medical and nursing students at MU to teach sensitivity in delivering diagnosis and treatment plan information to patients.

Carrie Winship, a doctoral student in theater who performs with the group, said, "Theater is a beautiful medium for talking about social problems in our community."

Rachel Bauer, Interactive Theatre Troupe coordinator for "Breast Cancer Dialogues," said medical students get valuable practice as they assume the roles of doctor and patient in the five-
minute scenes. "It gives them an understanding of what patients and doctors are going through, and how to make those dialogues more fruitful," she said.

Troupe director is Suzanne Burgoyne. Jane Armer, director of nursing research at Ellis Fischel, doctoral student in nursing Pamela Ostby and James Campbell, professor in MU School of Medicine's family and community medicine department, are part of the interdisciplinary team supporting "Breast Cancer Dialogues."

The group received a Komen Foundation grant in 2011 and a Mizzou Advantage grant in 2013.

For more information, contact Woolery at or 573-884-9025.

Copyright 2015 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.