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The Chronic Illness Radio Play Project

Early in 2010, playwright and director Rebecca Moran conducted exploratory workshops with participants from Ceart PatientWise. Ceart PatientWise is a Kilkenny-based self-management course for people with physical and mental health problems.

The workshops led to the instigation of the Chronic Illness Radio Play Project in August 2010, which culminated five months later with the broadcast of the new radio play. 62 people from Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Tipperary took part in this project and developed material for what culminated in a radio play entitled A Time for Hope and Desperation. The play is a deeply moving series of fictional monologues which give expression to the many fears and frustrations that a chronic illness brings to a person’s life.

Aims

The project aimed to provide a fully inclusive opportunity for chronically ill people to engage in an artistic and creative process respectful of their individual needs, by collaborating with a professional playwright on the development and production of a play for radio that explored issues concerning living with chronic illness.

Methods

The project included three phases of work:  research, script development, and rehearsal/broadcast.

In the initial research phase, workshops focused on the exploration of the broad theme ‘living with chronic illness’ through a combination of theatre, writing, and discussion techniques.  In order to leave pre-conceptions, stereotypes, and generalities outside the creative space, the workshops were designed in an open and flexible way to allow the participant’s creative responses and the outcomes of individual activities to guide subsequent activities and thus to narrow the theme further.  In this way topics emerged that founded the basis of the themes in the final script, some of these included: the significance of friendship in living with chronic illness, the recognition that the chronically ill still experience love and sensuality, and the intrinsic need to be allowed to sometimes just have a bad day.

During this phase, radio emerged as the ideal medium to realise the artist’s vision for a unique play that would experiment with voice and sound whilst also providing a fully inclusive experience for participants.

Based upon material gathered in the research phase, Rebecca wrote the first draft of a distinctive radio play which comprised a series of fictional monologues woven together by abstract vocal and sound based transitions.

In subsequent script development workshops, under Rebecca’s guidance, participants explored the play through theatre-based methods and were encouraged to comment, question, and advise.

When the playwright completed the final draft, open auditions resulted in a large, eager cast with a wide variety of abilities, and experience of illness. Rehearsals focused on developing a safe, comfortable space for creative exploration; nurturing trust and camaraderie; building performance, memory, and necessary skills; and developing character, performance cohesion, and quality.

Recording sessions were held in December 2010 over the course of two days in the fully accessible KCLR96FM studios, under the guidance of professional radio technicians and sound engineers.

Evaluation Methodology

A thorough and well-planned evaluation process was agreed by all partners at the outset of the project, including weekly monitoring and evaluation meetings between the partners.

Additionally, an organisation leader and the artist were present at all times during each phase to take notes and respond to participant questions, concerns, and advice.

Formal participant evaluations were conducted after each phase of work.  In response to participant care needs, evaluations were conducted in varying forms with the assistance of an independent support person where required.  These included:

  • Non-structured written evaluation
  • Structured written evaluations forms (i.e. ‘fill in the blank’ and ‘tick the box’ formats)
  • Discussion groups led by a nominated member of the group
  • Interviews
  • Audio clips

All partners and cast members completed comprehensive final written evaluations.

The above information is all contained in a comprehensive 48-paged, confidential final evaluation report completed in March 2011.

Evaluation Outcomes

For participants the project provided significant quantifiable benefits and the opportunity to join an inclusive project where disability or illness didn’t prevent or limit participation in any activity.

The profound achievements of the participants are all the more extraordinary when viewed in the context of the personal challenges overcome in the creation of the work, both as individuals living with chronic illness and as collaborators in accommodating the diversity of each other’s individual illnesses (i.e. mental health issues, hearing loss, literacy challenges, vision impairment, physical disability, chronic pain, memory difficulties, and more). Some benefits outlined in participant evaluations included:

  • increased confidence (91%)
  • peer supports (‘being involved brought me out of a very isolating situation’)
  • creativity (‘opened up a creative part of me dormant because of pain’)
  • engagement in the arts (i.e., subsequently enrolling in or joining: a FETAC level 5 drama course, writers and amateur drama groups, and seeking work in ‘voice-overs’)

One participant wrote:  ‘It was very successful!  People were given a true and challenging insight into chronic illness. We made them see beyond the physical into our soul with all its pain and humour, resilience and hope!  ...I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to show people parts of me I keep very hidden because of not knowing how to tell them how I feel.’

The participants engaged in a new experience, gave 100% of their focus and ability, worked towards the best possible personally achievable outcomes and had faith and respect for the process and the project at all times.

Success was possible through genuine, enthusiastic, and dedicated collaboration.  All partners and participants contributed hard work, experience, expertise, focus on artistic quality, open communication, resources, and a commitment to the honouring and protection of the participants and their experiences. The result was an outstanding achievement for all, the positive consequences of which are anticipated to extend far into the future.

Likewise, the artist benefited from the project in innumerable ways, especially through increased awareness of her work and new artistic opportunities, including recently receiving funding from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to write and produce a five-part radio drama series.

Documentation & Dissemination

The one hour play, A Time for Hope and Desperation was broadcast on KCLR96FM on 29 December 2010 and 2 January 2011 to an overwhelmingly positive response from across arts, health, and media sectors in local, national and international arenas, both in print and online, and in particular from individuals with chronic ill health and those close to them.  An Irish Times article reported that the play was ‘Broad in its scope, sincere in its focus and deeply moving...’

As a result of continuing interest, the play was re-broadcast on 25 April 2011.

Dates

August 2010–December 2010

Participants

62 people participated in this project who either live with or are personally affected by chronic illness.

Lead Organisation

Ceart PatientWise

Partners

  • Rebecca Moran
  • Ceart PatientWise
  • KCLR96FM
  • Create, the national development agency for collaborative arts in social and community contexts

Funded By

Ceart Patientwise, Centre for Independent Living, Chuffey Media, Citizens Information Board, Individual donations, Irish Wheelchair Association, KCLR96FM, Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel, Mundipharma, The Arts Council’s Artist in the Community Scheme Managed by Create Project Realisation Award

Location

Kilkenny

Artist(s)

Rebecca Moran

Artform

Theatre

Context

Primary Care/ Community Health

Nature of Project

Collaborative/ participatory, Performance


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