The theatre of medicine

Three short plays will highlight the need for empathy in healthcare as part of the National Bioethics Conference

Published - December 10, 2014 06:05 pm IST - Bangalore:

Rehearsal scene from one of the plays

Rehearsal scene from one of the plays

Highlighting the value of empathy in healthcare, an arts festival will be conducted by Empathize Now during the fifth National Bioethics Conference, being held till December 13, at St. John’s Hospital. Besides film screenings and an exhibition, the conference will feature an evening of short plays, directed by Tortilla Entertainment Company. The plays raise questions on the importance of empathy and understanding in health care.

The three short plays are original works. AHeart to Heart is written by Kusum Punjabi, a talented script writer. It is about a patient who insists he knows his ailment, even though the doctor would have him believe otherwise. MPL, written by Adarsh Satish, deals with the adage ‘health is wealth’ literally, where the best medical services go to the highest bidder. Can You Feel This? Written by Deepak Hariharan, explores the question, will diagnosis of a disease from inexplicable symptoms require the ear of a doctor at all?

Anita Mithra, founder of Tortilla, who is also known for initiating the Short+Sweet Festival says a due process was followed to guide the playwrights, including sending them for a final edit to veteran playwright, Mahesh Dattani. “I like to keep pulling writers out of the woodwork,” says Anita. “It is so much fun to work into the groove of the formant of writing short plays. When Sara Adhikari, who began the initiative Empathize Now, approached me to put together plays for the conference, we evolved five concepts around which the plays would be written.” People wrote in with ideas, and from them, three writers were shortlisted, adds Anita. “None of the plays are straightforward. It is entertaining, but it hits hard. There is black humour in them. While the audience would laugh, they would also understand the underlying message.”

Anita says the first play deals with the commercialisation of hospitals. The second looks at if healing in modern healthcare has gone forward without feeling, and the third is loosely based on a true story on that took place in Bengaluru.

“We put in some checkpoints. We asked a doctor who is also interested in theatre to check whether the medical facts were correct or not. We asked someone from Jugaad Company to offer insights from the point of drama,” says Anita.

Mahesh says, over phone, he liked the fact that all the plays had a great sense of humour. “I was happy to see that the young writers had taken it seriously. There was a fair amount of craft to the plays.” He adds that humour is an important tool to imbibe a spirit of empathy. “It is a great way of breaking down barriers. Through the idiosyncrasies of the characters and the absurdity of situations, you can also see the truth.” Theatre, says Mahesh, has a great power of mirroring society in a truthful way. “Theatre touches a raw nerve, something about it is very palpable.”

Sara Adhikari, who started an NGO Small Change, began the initiative Empathize Now with Alex Gabbay, a film director and founder of Monkey & Me Films. Empathize Now advocates the role of empathy in prompting positive social change. “There can be no ethics without empathy,” says Sara. “All three plays focus on empathy and ethics in health care.”

The Arts Festival will also have film screenings of Love, Hate and Everything in Between , The English Surgeon and Fire in The Blood . There will also be an exhibition of Francoise Bosteels’ miniature dolls that tell stories of those living in the margins of society. The plays will be staged, 7 pm onwards, on December 11 at St. John’s Medical College. Free entry for all.

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