Mixed Blood Theater and U’s pharmacy school stage play about healthcare

The theater wrote a play based on patient experiences with healthcare and medication from a national survey.

Olivia Johnson

On Tuesday night, medical professionals and students saw the day-to-day intricacies of the healthcare industry performed in front of them.

A troupe of actors staged the play — ‘Go Ask Alice’ — at Coffman Memorial Union to give healthcare professionals, pharmacists, faculty and students a fresh perspective on medications, patient concerns and policy.

Jack Reuler, Mixed Blood’s artistic director for ‘Go Ask Alice,’ said communicating healthcare issues through theater allows those in the field to see the nuance and complexity of the medical world.

“We do a lot of this, especially in healthcare,” he said. “We take certain issues that are consistent with our mission and try to translate that into the language and conventions of theater.”

Reuler said he has directed similar productions in the past, and the theater company itself has done over 100 similar productions in the last 27 years.

“We felt we had adequate information on both the professional level, the systemic level and the personal level to tackle this,” he said. “This was really a series of vignettes that were glued together in interesting ways through music and theater.”

Reuler said the show had characters that took on the perspectives of pharmacists, providers and patients. In total, Mixed Blood Theater’s six-person cast portrayed about 25 different characters during the hour-long production, which ended with a discussion between the 100 attendees.

“The discussion was really robust,” he said. “I think that the healthcare providers and pharmacists that were in the audience really saw a perspective that they either see on a daily basis or see on a daily basis and were unaware of the implications of their behavior.”

Paul Ranelli, a professor in the college of pharmacy and play’s the main organizer, came up with the idea two years ago. He said he reached out to Mixed Blood Theatre after seeing them perform a few years prior.

“I liked what they did,” he said. “When I got this idea for a community partner … I wrote an email to the artistic director outlining what I was interested in.”

Though Ranelli doesn’t have theater background, he said he enjoys watching performances and realized their teaching potential.

“It was looking at theater as a way for people to really respond and to see how these stories would have an impact on them,” he said.

The stories covered medicine, rules and regulations patients encounter in the healthcare system and humorous moments related to drug advertising, Ranelli said.

“There are monologues that are given by people playing different characters in the medication environment,” he said, adding that the production is fictional but was based on true stories.

Ranelli said the show’s goal was to entertain but also help the audience think deeply about situations involving medicine.

Alyssa Bortz, a graduate student in the social administrative pharmacy program, got involved in the project last fall as a research assistant.

“Dr. Ranelli needed a graduate student to help him find background on using theatre as an educational tool,” Bortz said. “My role … has been to go through comments from a national survey.”

In the 2015 survey, she said respondents were asked to give general feelings about medicine and healthcare. Bortz then went through the responses and identified themes and sample patient stories to give to Mixed Blood for the production.

“For me, it’s really about the audience taking away more empathy for people that they’re taking care of,” Bortz said. “They’re people and they have lives and their illness and their medications can really affect their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.”