Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Theatre for Life

Posted By on Tue, Jan 8, 2008 at 10:12 PM

Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency, or LOPA, are the brave souls who approach a grieving family within 24 hours after a loved-one's death to ask for organ donation. Can you imagine that job? I can, because for 3 afternoons last week I reacted to the awful news of a loved-one's death, over and over again. As an actor, I dramatized scenes that simulate real-world scenarios, so that the LOPA grief counselors could practice their craft in a safe environment.

The scenes were specifically designed to be difficult for the counselors; and thus, as an actor, difficult for me. My wife and I could not have children, and our adopted daughter was struck by a drunk driver on her way home from the school. It just so happened that the grief counselor who approached us was 6 months pregnant. DANG. I was a Fundamentalist Baptist who could not accept the death of my teenage son because Pastor RJ promised that my boy, Steve-O, would rise up at 10am. And then at 10am, the grief counselor had to approach me for organ donation. SHITE. I was a teenage son who's mother died, and at 18, am legal next-of-kin; but if I consent to organ donation, my step-father will kick me out. FRAK.

After 3 days of it, my body was aching. The body doesn't know the difference between real grief and acting-grief, if you're really feeling it, which I was. It wasn't hard at all to go to the difficult place emotionally, because the material was so highly charged. It felt more like letting myself go somewhere than forcing myself to go. The tears and the snot and the anger were all right there. Three days of it. I took the news 21 times, and sobbed each time.

This form of theatre-based employee training is the brainchild of Jim Boggs, PhD. His Seattle company, Effective Arts, uses Improv actors to teach nurses and counselors how to approach a grieving family to request organ donation. The numbers prove his effectiveness. Consent rates in Louisiana have increased from 43 to 73 percent since his local training began in October. A single consent saves from 7 to 50 lives (including bone and tissue donations.) At any given minute, 92000 people are wait-listed for organ transplants, most on the precipice of death.

Occasionally, I do get to use my acting skills for good, rather than evil.


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