Studying for the stage

by Lenise Willis

The human body is quite complex, which is why it takes years of studying to become a doctor. But apparently it also takes a lot of hard focus and studying to even pretend to be a doctor””that is if you want your production to be of the upmost quality. And that’s exactly the extent to which Triad Stage went in order to nail down every detail of Wit.

The production centers on an English professor, Dr. Vivian Bearing, who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but Triad Stage promises, “This is not just a cancer play.”

“This is a drama, and a self-aware one at that, and the play will not allow Vivian, nor us, any distance,” says director Dani Keil. “At first we are one of witty intellectuals, detached scientists and bold researchers, but later our spirits are involved (in Vivian’s story).”

As the scholar goes through an experimental chemotherapy program at a teaching hospital, she begins to reassess her life and is transformed by the doctors, nurses, friends and family by her side.

And though the play isn’t just about the scholar’s sickness and the medical field, it is a pretty important component””one that Triad Stage wanted to make sure it got right. That’s why the theater reached out to the Wake Forest Medical Center for help.

Serving as the liaison between the theater and the hospital, Carla Strom, the Health Equity Program Manager at Wake Forest Baptist Health Comprehensive Cancer Center, worked closely with the Triad Stage actors, designers and staff to ensure the production felt as authentic as possible.

“Working with the medial center staff has been invaluable,” said Tamera Izlar, artistic associate and dramaturge for the production. “The actors were able to move beyond complex textbook definitions to gain a deeper understanding of the characters’ worlds through experiential learning.”

This was especially important considering the story of Wit unfolds inside of a medical hospital, in which the actors mimic medical procedures such as conducting a medical exam, putting on a catheter, inserting an IV and working with a Code Blue Response Team.

“As the production dramaturge, in addition to creating a dramaturgical website for the actors and audiences to peruse, I wanted to provide experience-based learning opportunities for the actors during the rehearsal process.”

Izlar said that from the first day of rehearsals, the actors were professional, prepared and had, of course, done their own independent research to understand the play and its requirements, but she felt that this play offered a special opportunity for greater partnership and exploration, which is why she reached out to Wake Forest.

Thanks to the partnership, not only was the theater staff able to tour the medical center and interact with the medical staff, but they were also able to work with Robin Petro, WFBH Precision Oncology Nurse Navigator, and Gynecologic Oncologist’s Dr. Michael Kelly, during the rehearsal process. The two served as medical consultants for the actors to practice their procedures, as well as learn about the various perspectives of patients, patients’ families and the medical staff in the oncology unit.

In addition, Strom also provided content for the Wit playbill and the “Wit Audience Exploration Digital booklet.”

“The generosity, experiences and professionalism of the medical staff at Wake Forest Baptist Health aided in shaping the vulnerability, comprehension, intensity and emotional journey of the characters,” Izlar added.

“After developing and building a partnership with Wake Forest Baptist Health, the journey for audiences will be insightful, enlightening, empowering, and uplifting,” she said. “Similarly, when you combine a Pulitzer Prize-winning story, an artistic dream team, community partnerships, exquisite actors and experienced technical staff, you have a theater experience you do not want to miss.

“To me, Wit is an opportunity to inform, educate, and support cancer survivors, their friends and their families. Likewise, Wit in an opportunity to honor the unique and diverse life journeys of the brave patients who have transitioned. Although illnesses can consume the body, it cannot capture one’s spirit.” !


Triad Stage performs Wit Wednesday through Oct. 17 at Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 N. Spruce St., Winston-Salem. Tickets are about $10-$42 depending on day and seating. For tickets and more information call 272-0160 or visit