Being stuck as a patient at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital with a long term illness can come with some very serious uncertainties. Will I be sick every day? How long will it be before I get to see my friends? Am I going to die? Executive Director John Burton of Main Street Arts Children’s Theatre in Bedford Hills, New York will not sugar coat the situation. But the poetry workshop he has brought to the Child Life Program at the Valhalla Hospital helps many of these children sort through the upheaval they’ve unfairly been faced with.
Poetry is a legitimate vehicle to process all these types of traumatic emotions, he says.
In a certain sense, the hospital already knew this with the writing program that was already in place but it was Mr. Burton and Main Street founder and artistic director Paul Perez who have now lifted the voices and verse off the printed page. “We created a performance out of it,” he says.
Called, “Notes from a Hospital Bed,” this will be the third year Main Street and its young actors will put on this production. “You can’t see this without crying,” he says.
Yes, sometimes the tears come of joy through light hearted commentary directed at things like the food, but more commonly it’s painful reality on display. Leaving aside the Shakespearean philosophical posing of being or not, he says, “These kids are writing about life and death issues, physical pain and emotional pain.”
Trying to make sense of the ordeal also are the parents and the poetry and performance opens their eyes to the situation in a way that a medical chart or treatment plan cannot. This gives them a real tangible grip on what these kids are going through, he says.
Not to be lost in all this, the Main Street actors exhibit a level dedication and commitment that is on par with the bravery of the children portrayed, according to Mr. Burton. Giving 200 hours a school year to the production, he says, “They’re definitely not doing it to get this one their resume.”
Instead, they come in as full partners to their young contemporaries and the Main Street hierarchy. They participate in picking the material and get a first hand look at the heart and soul behind the works by coming to Maria Fareri, he says
In turn, Main Street gets a clear message across to the actors about the serious nature of the situation. “We want our actors to treat this work with the respect it deserves,” he says.
Given the success so far and the money and awareness raised for Child Life, the formula seems to be working quite well, but Mr. Burton doesn’t see a reason to stop there. Now, with plans to start taking the production out locally beyond their Bedford Hills theatre, he hopes “Notes from a Hospital Bed” can eventually go national. We want children’s hospitals across the country to model what we’ve done here, he says.
Still, for now, the most important audience in Mr. Burton’s eyes are the kids right here at Maria Fareri. Main Street takes a scaled down version right to the lobby for its originators. Some laugh, some cry and some are just proud of themselves, he says. “Any and all of that is OK,” he concludes.
Rich Monetti interview of John Burton