Guest Post

Theatre for Children in Hospital. The Gift of Compassion.

My book “Theatre for Children in Hospital. The Gift of Compassion” (15 December 2016) brings to the reader experience of over ten years practice and evaluation of bedside theatre performances for children in hospital wards in the U.K. and abroad. It makes an argument for the benefits of theatre provision for children in illness, their families, the nursing staff and the actors who participate in Hospital theatrical interventions.

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My passion for philosophy led me to develop a holistic, symbiotic and eudaemonic approach to research about theatre, children and wellbeing. The works of Aristotle and Heraclitus, for example, are mentioned in the book to contextualise the purpose of my applied theatre research in environments of illness and suffering and its potential towards an empathetic and compassionate society through the arts. I have also been inspired by intelligent works of so many colleagues in the fields of applied theatre and, the arts in health and wellbeing. The outcome of this inspiration enabled a collaboration of ideas between two cultures, the artistic and the clinical. My intention is to introduce a “dance” a dialectic debate between the artist who interferes in hospital and the audience who are the “residents” in the kingdom of unwellness. The challenge was to offer a playful dimension to the process of emerging a marriage of the art with the clinical for the benefit of the child.

To this end, the book details the theoretical contexts and practical features of theatre for children in healthcare, the problematic boundaries between applied theatre and therapy in clinical contexts, and the complex ethics of audience participation in confined spaces. The heart of the book analyses specific examples of bedside theatre practice and real incidents in hospitals in a lively tone. I offer quotes from film recordings and transcripts, dialogues between the child and the actor in performance, that developed moment-by-moment in the safety of the dramatic. The practitioner will particularly enjoy this part of the book and the full play that is provided in the appendix for further exploration.

The opportunity to write this book came to me through my work as the director of CADLab (Community & Applied Drama Lab) at Newman University in Birmingham. CADLab is a research hub that implements projects for children in hospitals, hospices and alternative educational settings such as schools in hospitals in partnership with NHS Trusts and local authorities. I have been privileged to receive awards and grants from HEfCE & Unlimited, Charities and BBC Children in Need to develop my research alongside CADLab projects. I felt the desire to share my experience of working with talented artists and the most wonderful children, parent/careers and supportive hospital staff to inspire and encourage more actors, play specialists, therapists and nurses to explore and produce theatre for children in hospital.

The task of researching and disseminating the results of a series of evolving studies about the impact of intimate synergistic performances on the moderation of hospital experience was a difficult one but I did not run away from it. My understanding of theatre pedagogy and learning through theatre are rooted in my PhD studies at Goldsmiths. One of the things that I learned during my years at Goldsmiths is that what is unexamined stays in the dark and therefore it offers no help to improving lives of people and the growth of communities. In fact, I believe that sharing examples of our research and practice may help us to become both better artist-researchers and better citizens. In the last chapter of the book I offer a catalogue of possible gifts that we may gain from our theatre research in healthcare. The gift of compassion stands out as the greatest of all because we learn to participate ethically and respectfully in the lives of those who suffer through the arts. We use the arts in public service and by doing this, we increase the opportunity for a more human and caring world.

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This guest post was written by Persephone Sextou (Phd Drama, 2004), a Reader in Applied Theatre at Newman University in Birmingham (UK) and director of CADLab. She is engaged in the task of using a mixed research methodology to make a meaningful contribution to the lives of children with illness. She is currently leading “Bird Island” a participatory theatre project with a £50K grant from BBC Children in Need while she continually writes and publishes internationally.

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