The Readers' Theater (RT) program at East Carolina University is co-sponsored by the Department of Bioethics and Interdisciplinary Studies at The Brody School of Medicine, coordinated by Todd L. Savitt, PhD; and by the ECU College of Nursing with the coordination efforts of Melissa Schwartz Beck, PhD, RNC-OB and Bob Green, RN, CNM. Students audition each semester to join the cast and read the part of a character in a medically-related short story that has been scripted by our adapter. Students perform these stories in traditional readers' theater style, seated or occasionally standing, at the front of a room, reading aloud from a script (no memorization needed), and using their voices and facial expressions to enhance the words.
What makes the program so meaningful and attractive to students is the audience before whom they are performing. We take our stories outside the medical center and into the communities (for example a retirement community, public library, or church), where these future physicians and nurses can meet and talk with future patients. Following an approximately 30-minute reading at a site, a faculty member leads a discussion of the story with the audience and the cast. The two groups thus get to hear each others' concerns and points of view on issues raised in the story. It is these discussions and not the performances themselves that form the heart of the readers' theater program. The discussions provide a means for students to meet the general public and learn about ideas and attitudes laypeople have about the medical and nursing professions and about current health care issues.
We have performed a variety of stories, one each semester, since 1988. Students involved in the ECU program receive no course or other educational credit for their efforts. They devote only a few hours each semester to practicing their lines, attending one rehearsal, traveling to the communities for performances, and actually performing and discussing the stories. Usually each student performs two or three times a semester. We present five to seven performances with casts of from four to eight students each semester.
Responses from community audiences have been uniformly positive. People enjoy meeting the "young doctors and nurses" and talking about medicine with them. They view ECU's School of Medicine, a relatively new institution for which residents of the region fought hard, as their school, and appreciate the efforts students make during the discussion and after the performance to answer their questions and express views clearly and fairly. The program has provided the medical and nursing schools with good PR and the students with unique insights into their future patients.
Todd L. Savitt, Ph.D., has coordinated the Readers' Theater Program at ECU since its inception and will gladly discuss the project with all who are interested. He may be reached by phone at 252-744-2622, e-mail address savittT@ecu.edu.
Readers' Theater Stories