Thursday, October 7, 2010
In a polarized society where Jack Kevorkian is either a monster or a saint and Terry Shiavo was either murdered or allowed to die with rare dignity, it’s nice to have a little help making sense of end-of-life issues.
The Compassionate Care Alliance, through its Healing through the Arts program, uses theater to get audiences thinking and talking about illness, grief, healing, our country’s health care system and the importance of facing and planning for the end of life. After all, CCA leadership reasons, the world can be a great place, but one thing is for sure: None of us gets out alive, so it’s a good idea to have an Exit Strategy. That doubles as the name of CCA’s latest play, starring Rosemary Luke and Richard Boynton and directed by Peter Reynolds.
Written by Pebble Beach playwright Cindy Gum, Exit Strategy introduces extraordinary circumstances which bring two strangers together, a widowed family physician and an ill-but-feisty woman who has lost her job, home and medical insurance. It’s Christmas Eve, and as the snow piles up outside a Lake Tahoe cabin, the two talk about the twists and turns in life’s labyrinth that brought them to this point. What first seems to be a chance encounter becomes a fortuitous event for both.
Gum, who is chairperson for the Healing through the Arts program, has authored two other plays for the Compassionate Care Alliance, CALL 911 and Legacy.
“Art is a mirror,” Gum says. “Theater is one of the original mirrors of human behavior. I want people to come to their own decisions. The play is an opportunity for them to think.”
After each performance Gum, a licensed marriage and family therapist, joins members of the cast and audience for a discussion about the challenges and conflicts faced by the play’s characters.
CCA Executive Director Viki Nelson, who moderates the after-play discussion, remembers one audience member saying the program helped them decide to contact and make amends with their estranged family. Other emotions also emerge.
“People cry for the first time,” she says.
In the process, an uncommon approach to late-life counseling is completed.
“Viki is the real pioneer in using performance art in this way,” Gum says.
And Nelson has no plans of stopping: “We have a true belief we’re doing something right and we’re going to keep doing it,” she says.
Inspired by Bill Moyers’ PBS series, On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying, CCA of Monterey County started in 2000 for the purpose of improving end-of-life care in Monterey County. Before that there was no centralized source of information to help families through the maze of issues. Today the alliance consists of 45 organizations all working together to provide access to information and services with special emphasis on the importance of expressing one’s final wishes with a document called an advance directive.
“Wanting to not be afraid of dying,” Gum says, “is the reason I started writing this kind of play.”