The winner of this year’s Bayer Dream Fund contest certainly has something new and different in mind. Wendy Coleman, a theater and speech professor at Albany State University in Georgia, will use her award to “compose and perform a play about managing life with diabetes,” complete with song and dance numbers. The piece is called This is Our Story: Learning, Loving and Living Well with Diabetes, scheduled for a brief tour of five southern states starting this August.
I’m sure there are valuable lessons there, but I’m somehow having a hard time imagining lining up at the box office for a play about this @#$% disease. So I had a chat with Wendy herself to dig a little deeper into her unique vision. Here’s my mini interview (“minterview”?) with Wendy:
So were you working on a play about diabetes before you heard of the Bayer contest?
I was thinking about how to get the message out about how important it is after diagnosis to really take it seriously and move forward and take care of yourself… and I thought, “What if we do play?”
Who are the characters? And how long is it?
It’s a two-hour play with intermission, based on my life and who I am — how I handled my diagnosis with Type 2 in 2005. The main character goes to a new doctor, and is told she has diabetes. She goes into denial, walks out of doctor’s office and literally drops the prescription slip for her glucose meter into the trash can — like this didn’t even really happen to her. She’s experiencing symptoms, fatigue and the rest…
Later she has a “Dickens moment” where her Aunt Bessie comes back from the past and walks her through history to help her understand that “this is not just about you; it’s about the past, present, and future –- those who will come after you.”
I’m still having trouble visualizing a Broadway version. What are some other key scenes you can share?
Her “aha moment” is when she meets her great grandfather who’s going to be a Baptist minister. Then she begins to understand more about who she is.. I’m also a minister (an assistant pastor at a local church in Albany), so this ties into my life. She sees him struggling with some complications of diabetes. He’s in a wheelchair, and he says “it’s because I was too proud and too busy and I didn’t want to go to the doctor.” They have a real heartfelt conversation about how he comes to understand his health.
I’m trying not to make it drab and dreary. We’ll use a lot of humor. Mostly we have young actors embodying elderly people -– not as characatuers, but they bring life and enjoyment to the depiction of being older. There’s also lots of dance and singing. We’re working on the lyrics with an experienced musician, and we’ll will bring in a dance company to do some of the dance scenes.
So what would be your measure of success for this play?
I really want to see people encouraged to get monitoring, to learn their medical history, and their family history. And if you’re diagnosed with diabetes, to know it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. It requires some changes, which can be simple, but can make a world of difference. I also want them to not be embarrassed and afraid and ashamed if they’re diagnosed.
For me personally, working on this has already had an impact on my diabetes care. I’m more conscious and more responsible in taking care of myself. I don’t ever want to be a hypocrite: if I’m not doing it, then how can I tell others what’s right?
I’m hoping that after our last Dream Fund performance in December, the play will catch on and we’ll get other sponsors and be able to take it all over the country.
Well Wendy, I’m still having a bit of trouble picturing it. But heck, if plays with names like Menopause the Musical and Urinetown can make it big, I’m sure there’s a chance for one about an ailment effecting as many millions as diabetes does. Break a leg!