Staging Wellness: Health & Theater Come Together in Local Performance Festival

Mint and chocolate. Peanut butter and jelly. Pillows and beds. All are things that when put together can create a beautiful product. This weekend, the worlds of public health and theater are coming together for “Staging Wellness: Live Performance and Public Health."

The event, Staging Wellness, is a week-long performance festival, which started March 16 and lasts until March 22 at the Squitieri Studio Threatre. This festival explores topics of public health through three performances. According to the press release, it is hosted by the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine in partnership with ArtPlace America and UF Performing Arts.

“[This festival] is a part of a number of different initiatives, but it’s most associated with the Center for Arts in Medicine’s initiative called ‘Creating Healthy Communities: Art and Public Health in America,’” said Brandon McKinley, public relations and partnerships specialists from the College of the Arts. “It was born out of the many components of this initiative.”

The productions in the festival are based on lived experiences, personal anecdotes and true stories surrounding public health. There are three plays being performed at this festival: From Colored to Black, which is based on oral histories gathered by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program from African Americans living in North Central Florida; Mercy Killers, a one-man show about a husband who can’t pay for his terminally ill wife’s healthcare; and a performance by Richard Kogan, a clinical psychiatrist and concert pianist who performs lecture-recitals, teaching audiences about the connection between psychology and psychiatry to the creative works of famous composers.

From left, Jessica McLeod, Brittney M. Caldwell and Darious Robertson play Connect Four during a conversation in the play, “From Colored to Black.” (Photo by Jessica Curbelo)

 

Brittney M. Caldwell, co-director and playwright for From Colored to Black worked on her play for about a year, and it was premiered at the festival.

“I think the two mediums go together extremely well — health education and theater — because life is absurd and so are the issues with health,” Caldwell said. “It’s easy to play up and experience that absurdity in the theater.”

Caldwell said the first play they’ve ever done connecting health and theater was when she did theater for young audiences with Planned Parenthood. She did a show called Willa Wonka and the Condom Factory and  taught about sexual health, bullying, domestic violence and communication. She never lost the audience’s attention like she may have by just giving a straight-on talk about sexual health.

“If you give [the audience] a way to release some of their own anxiety about having the conversation in the first place, entertainment makes it palpable for everybody,” she said. “You can get far talking about wellness and health through theater. I don’t think that there’s a better way to do it”.

From left, Jessica McLeod, Darious Robertson and Brittney M. Caldwell pretend to be protestors during a scene in “From Colored to Black.” (Photo by Jessica Curbelo)

From Colored to Black showed on March 16. Richard Kogan will be performing The Mind and Music of George Gershwin on March 19 and Beethoven’s Deafness: Psychological Crisis and Artistic Triumph on the 20th, both at 7:30 p.m. Mercy Killers will be showing at 7:30 p.m. on March 21 and 22.

For more information on tickets and the event, go to the UF Performing Arts website.