I AM A ZEBRA
Performance Art for Learning in the Worlds of Medicine and Healthcare
I am a zebra. That is, a zebra in the sense of the medical aphorism:
If you hear hoof beats, it’s a horse, not a zebra
I am Ingrid Masterton.
By profession, a physical therapist.
By a lifetime of experience, a ‘professional’ patient.
I have been a researching graduate student and a teacher within my field.
I am a daughter, a sibling, a wife, a mother, and a member of a faith community as well as a myriad of other cultural communities.
While all people rightfully claim, and are bestowed with, multiple identities; the intersection of my particular identities provides me with a remarkably unique perspective on medical and healthcare practice. It is with that perspective, which I believe I can uniquely speak to that community.
From living in this liminal space, I have gained a certain moral authority, which allows me to view the world of medicine and healthcare simultaneously…
I became a ‘patient’ , “one who suffers” , when I was at one of the most emotionally vulnerable times in the life of a modern human – as an adolescent. That illness, combined with all its long term health sequelae, has taught me to embrace vulnerability with a tenacity that eludes many people, especially medical and health professionals.
I completed my coursework for a PhD in Disability Studies, but my health precluded completion of my prelim and dissertation work. I redirected my limited energy toward discerning a mechanism to share the wisdom that my education in the 'school of hard knocks' has provided me. While having taken to writing a larger work, my affinity for 'telling' my story drew me toward the stage. The underlying inclination of Second City Training Center (SCTC), to 'speak truth to power' using humor, spoke to me. I took classes at SCTC and have worked with a coach and director from Second City to create a one person show:
I AM A ZEBRA: A Curiously Entertaining Story of Illness.
Within the process of creating this performance piece, it became clear how powerful it is to 'perform' one's stories. Writing the piece, like any writing, creates an opportunity for the author to craft the story with perhaps far more coherence and meaning than the reality ever was; and demands that the author take ownership of his own understandings and actions while at the same time attempting some grasp of the perspectives of the other characters in the story. I came to understand how I conflated and/or minimized various aspects of the people within my healthcare experiences...self-effacement. forgiveness, resolution and learning ensued.
But the performance aspect enhanced these experiences and outcomes far more than I would have ever imagined. In the physicality of the moving, speaking (while laughing, yelling, whispering, whimpering) and the exaggeration of facial expressions...the writing, and the past experiences become real again. And, the outcomes - self-effacement, forgiveness, resolution - the learning - become so much deeper.
Having taught in various contexts within medicine and health professional education, I considered how performance art might be a tool for learning to ultimately support better understandings and collaboration across the many players within the worlds of medicine and healthcare. Role playing or live, 'real' patient interviews and simulation with actors are effectively used within medical and health professional education. But only performance art allows the 'characters' - THE LEARNERS - in their own real stories, the imaginary space to move into and out of the various levels of the social power gradients of the worlds of medicine and healthcare. That includes not only doctor/patient, but student/teacher, clinical pupil/mentor, physician/allied health professionals, administrator/service provider, policy maker/provider, payor/patient, patient/family etc.
In an effort to explore the power of performance art for learning in the worlds of medicine and healthcare, I have created this emerging enterprise - I AM A ZEBRA. My intent is to continue to sculpt learning experiences, in the form of stories crafted into performance art - as often as not with a good dose of humor- specifically designed for each of any given varied group of learners:
While I have a rather unique perspective, I seek to create a platform from which many other 'performers' (patients, consumers, physicians, healthcare professionals, administrators, educators, policy makers - everyone has a story) can relate their unique and important stories about what it means to be human in the worlds of medicine and healthcare; stories that need to be told and performed in the the places where, and to the people for whom, it will really matter.