Creative Arts

The creative arts can relate to many forms of the arts embodied in action and practice among them (but not restricted to) drama, dance and musical performance, visual arts, writing, publishing, graphic arts, cartooning, film, multi media and design.

In Humane

To be humane is to have or show compassion or benevolence.

Being concerned with the alleviation of suffering.

To interact with care, consideration and respect.


the word medicine is from the Latin ars medicina, meaning the art of healing.

Broadly speaking the practice of medicine is to be

active in the prevention and treatment of illness.

Monday, October 27, 2014

An Ethnodrama about Aging, Mental Health and Autonomy

Excerpt from the article "Remember Me for Birds, An Ethnodrama about Aging, Mental health and Autonomy by Cheryl L. McLean

from the book Creative Arts in Humane Medicine, Editor Cheryl L. McLean

Brush Education, Edmonton

(dist. by University of Toronto Press)



The use of narrative in health has made significant inroads, particularly in narrative medicine, an approach pioneered by Rita Charon (2008) , who has long advocated the use of narrative in medical education to honour stories of illness. Others have written about performative forms of narrative such as Sociologist Norman K. Denzin (2003) who established the connections between research inquiry, writing, narrative and performance ethnography. Denzin explains performance is an act of intervention, a method of resistance,a form of criticism, a way of revealing agency: “performance becomes public pedagogy when it uses the aesthetic, the performative, to foreground the intersection of politics, institutional sites and embodied experience” ( Denzin, 2003 , p. 9).


Ethnodrama, a qualitative approach considered a form of ethnographic theatre, is an emerging genre, an embodied and multisensory form of research that has much to offer both education and health care. SaldaƱa (2011) offers further insight with a definition of ethnodrama:


An ethnodrama … is a written play script consisting of dramatized, significant

selections of narrative collected from interview transcripts, participant observation,

field notes, journal entries, personal memories/experiences and/or print and

media artifacts such as diaries, blogs, e-mail correspondence, television broadcasts,

newspaper articles, court proceedings and historical documents. … Simply

put, this is dramatizing the data. 1 (p. 13)



If there is one overarching feature that distinguishes ethnodrama as a research-based art form from fictional dramatic plays, it is that the performance is about true stories.  


 Drawing on my writing, acting (Stanislavski (realism) influenced approaches) and arts based research experience and considering the challenges and goals of the inquiry,  I believed the best way for me to foster empathy and raise awareness about aging, mental health and autonomy was to write and act in a solo performance based on research and client stories. The performance, eventually called, "Remember Me for Birds" would be staged for health care workers and those who worked in gerontology. Dr. Muriel Gold, formerly the Artistic Director of the Saidye Bronfman Theatre in Montreal, agreed to direct the performance and offered invaluable feedback during the creative process.


I engaged in a rich creative exploration well  before writing the script.   I immersed myself in tactile fact-gathering that started with my creating a floor collage. The collage began as a few newspaper articles and photographs and developed over time to  include client photos; line drawings of clients; client art and stories; case studies, transcripts and videotapes; ditties and songs about growing old; and found objects from the dining room (such as resident dinner menus, spoons, bowls and salt and pepper shakers). This collage became my creative centre, a place for tactile multidimensional construction where I distilled and assimilated materials identifying issues of importance, among them transportation, food, support in crisis, diagnostic labeling, effects of past traumas, environmental triggering and relocations. Early in the process I used the collage to identify common themes, which I indicated in bold lettering across articles and photographs. I would at times contrast one issue with another, historical accounts with newspaper articles, seeking patterns in events past and present. Some of the found objects from the collage eventually became part of the set or were used as props during the performance. The spoon, for example, was one object particularly imbued with metaphor in this piece.


I sought to learn as much about my clients as possible, compiling detailed field notes, conducting one-on-one interviews, recording oral histories, taping selected therapy sessions, reading topical community-news stories, attending team meetings, talking with social workers and consulting journals of gerontology.  I got to know the social workers, the staff and the building superintendent, attended social gatherings, shared in music performances and enjoyed lively conversations on park benches. The older people in the resident community shared their stories through participating in interviews and oral histories and when they engaged in story-making during our drama and therapy sessions, as well as when creating visual art and poetry. They were aware they would be the inspiration for a performance and offered their stories willingly to help others.  To protect individuals’ identities, I did not use actual names, nor did I specify locations in the final script.   In some cases I would use compilation characters to convey the stories.


 The monologues for  the ethnodrama  Remember me for Birds were constructed to lend voice to older people’s issues and included local stories in the context of the resident environment contrasted with events shaped by personal histories.  I used the research information I gathered, much of it from working directly in the field, in my monologues, which made up the ethnodrama script about real-life issues affecting autonomy and mental health.


 I had set out in my research to create a performance based on true stories and lived experience that would raise awareness about autonomy and mental health by re-illuminating stories people working in health care experience every day in their work in aging and health. If I could not, in an immediate sense, bring people to action, I hoped through this performance to transform the way people think about older people. This was, I believed, where change would begin: in care that would contribute to quality of life from day to day for people at home, in residential care or in long-term-care facilities. It might also help in reforming health care policy that can have a direct bearing on well-being, autonomy and consequently the mental health of all those whom the system should be adequately designed to serve. After all, some 40 million people in the United States are currently age 65 or older, and this number is expected to climb to 89 million by 2050.

Active and performative research methods and the use of storytelling in health  have much to offer education and offer new ways for medical educators, students and others in the allied health professions to learn about aging and humane medicine. Through performance and what the arts can offer, caregivers have the opportunity to develop greater awareness, empathy and understanding, which could improve quality of life for us all.

It is, I believe, an offering of hope that we should treasure and hold on to very carefully.


Denzin, N.K. (2003), Performance ethnography, critical pedagogy and the politics of culture, Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications,.
Saldana, J. (2005), Ethnodrama:  an anthology of reality theatre.  Walnut Creek, CA:  Altamira Press.


The full article can be found in the book Creative Arts in Humane Medicine.  For more information