Buzzing from our first rehearsal in the ‘bed lab’ (simulated hospital ward at Kingston University)
I (Alex) kicked us off with some Lecoq-based exercises exploring a couple of fundamental skills: ‘disponibilite’ (being open, available and ready to respond) and ‘complicite’ (being hyper-sensitive to verbal and non-verbal cues and able to respond cleanly and sensitively to these). These skills align so neatly with Simon Baron-Cohen’s definition of empathy: being able to ‘read’ or imagine what others are feeling, and responding with appropriate emotions and behaviours.
Some of our exercises:
Navigating the space with an ‘autistic’ level of empathy – ie no interest in people, but a ‘single-minded’ concern with pattern and system. I first encountered this exercise in a workshop run by Nicola Shaughnessy (Imagining Autism) – an amazing felt experience that might approximate what it’s like to see the world at the ‘zero-positive’ end of Baron-Cohen’s empathy scale. And it resulted in a very tidy room!
Working in pairs, we took turns to lead a ‘blind’ (eyes closed) partner around the space. An embodied exploration of what Baron-Cohen calls being ‘double-minded’ ie having to think for our partner in a highly empathetic way. Thanks to Suzy Willson (Clod Ensemble/Performing Medicine) for the insight into how this exercise correlates with the experience of medical/healthcare professionals and their relationship with patients.
The afternoon session kicked off with Bex (former doctor, and our dramaturg) guiding us through a neurological exam, a prescribed set of questions and acts/gestures that become a strange sort of choreography between doctor and patient. Discussion centred on the strange intimacy of such exchanges – staring into someone’s eyes, stroking their face are normally gestures of romance but here they are enacted between strangers with an unequal power relationship. And those moments when the patient begins to understand, through a subtle change in the doctor/nurse’s behaviour, when something is wrong.
What happens when we treat people/bodies as objects? This idea (again from Baron-Cohen who equates it with being low on the empathy scale, but also a key concept of the ‘medical gaze’) underpinned explorations led by Adam in which we pushed, pulled, lifted and sculpted our own or each others’ bodies, discovering unexpected power dynamics and expressions of both potential cruelty and exquisite care. In another exercise, the ‘double-minded’ idea was folded into an exploration of a composite person (four of us moving as though with one intention). We ended with a gorgeous discovery: a double-nurse (Viv and Archana) pulled from bed to bed on the demands of her patient. Great potential in this image to explore the ’emotional labour’ of nurses (as explored in Pam Smith’s seminal study)
Big thanks to Adam Kirkham, Rebecca Seymour, Viviana Rocha and Archana Ballal for taking part!