The Dual Benefits of Performing in Hospitals

Holly Webster

As a creative person, I am extremely interested in the health and well-being benefits of creativity & the arts. After my degree, I am looking into going into the art therapy world and one day hope to own my own art therapy center. To further my knowledge of this area, I did a presentation at university, exploring the benefits of four main areas: dance, creative writing, music and drama.

One of the pathways of this kind of work that interested me was using drama within health settings. The apparent benefits of this type of work are:

1.       Help reduces stress in patients by giving them something fun to work on and witness.

2.       Challenge preconceptions that the patients cannot do anything whilst in the hospital.

3.       Allows the patients to feel useful and a part of something.

As someone who has been in and out of hospital their whole life, I find that being creative (particularly writing) helps me to take my mind off of what is happening and the boredom of being in the hospital. It adds a sense of normality, whereas being stuck staring at the hospital walls can get dull and be pretty detrimental to my mood whilst on the ward. Being in the hospital and receiving treatment isn’t the greatest experience alone, so adding boredom on top of this can be pretty hard.

Particularly over the last few years, I always take a notepad and pen with me into the hospital and find myself writing away to pass the time and do something I enjoy. However, I often wonder what it would be like if the opportunity to be creative in some way was readily available to me. As after a certain age, the colouring books in waiting rooms don’t quite cut it anymore. After researching into drama in health settings for my presentation, and eventually, this blog, I realised that it is becoming more and more common for art to be incorporated into hospitals. Particularly theatre.

But how?

The first way is theatre companies who work with or for patients and med. Staff and perform. So theatre companies are consulting with patients and staff to create and perform shows that they want to put on. This is a fun option because it allows the patients to get involved with the creative process without being demanding which is beneficial particularly for the sicker patients. However, a bigger benefit appears with the involvement of the medical staff. Obviously, the primary responsibility of the medical staff is to administer treatment. Which can mean that patients, particularly young kids, see them as scary. So this ability to work together on something fun, could build a stronger bond.

Some actors and theatre companies are meeting with patients and then performing their story to the public. For me, this has one clear advantage and one equally clear disadvantage. The advantage is that the patients are getting their stories told and this can help to break any wrong ideas about what it’s like to be a patient, potentially making the experience less scary for future patients.

Furthermore, it also reminds people and the patients themselves that life is so much more than being in the hospital at that time. As it can sometimes feel like there is no outside life or that you have any life outside of being sick, particularly during prolonged stays in the hospital. However, handing over your story to a theatre company and trusting them to put it out into the world to an audience can be scary because the finished product may not say exactly what you want it to or in the way you want it to. Which can cause a worry of being misunderstood. This is a huge issue and concern within any type of community art, but the implications are heightened when working with such a vulnerable community. So it is important that the theatre company or artist make sure that they keep the control in the hands of the patients to help them feel enriched by this practise.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about art within hospital settings. What do you think about this practise? Are you involved in any way? Have you or someone you know, benefitted from theatre being used in hospitals?