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Health care providers tell their stories in Peppermint Creek production

Morgan Bowen and Linda Vail sit in chairs in a performance space
Blake Bowen
Peppermint Creek Theatre Company
Co-director Morgan Bowen (left) talks with Linda Vail at a rehearsal for An Incredibly Human Thing

The Peppermint Creek Theatre Company in Lansing is staging a production featuring the stories of local health care professionals. It’s called An Incredibly Human Thing

It won’t be actors on stage during the performances, but people sharing their own stories.

This isn’t the first time Peppermint Creek has put on this kind of show. The first highlighted veterans and their families; another brought focus to immigrant and refugee populations.

This time, with the pandemic still heavily on our minds, stories of medical caregiving will be told by the people involved.

Co-director Blake Bowen says he’s been thinking a lot about the theme of “unmasking” while working on this show. The idea, he adds, is to take off the mask to reveal truths.

Bowen says they put the word out asking for local health care providers to tell their stories. The show includes eight in all.

“We would help them with editing. We would help them with just the theatricality of storytelling, natural pauses, the peaks and the valleys of their vocality and delving into how to tell a good story,” Bowen said. "I think everyone’s very happy with it.”

One of those storytellers in Erik Grill. He isn’t a medical professional himself; rather, he’ll discuss the topic from the perspective of a patient.

“It’s a story about my experience having COVID-19 in March of 2020, how I became sick, got sick enough to go to the hospital, and what it was like from my side of the bedside.”

Grill says it was surreal watching his caregivers put on surgical masks, gloves, face shields and plastic tunics just to bring him something to eat.

It isn’t a coincidence that An Incredibly Human Thing is being staged during National Nurses Week. Thursday also marks the end of the country’s public health emergency for COVID-19.

Blake Bowen and his brother Morgan are directing the show together.

Their family history includes a grandmother who was a nurse during World War II and after, a mom who was a public health nurse and a dad who’s a child psychiatrist.

Morgan works in the field, too. He’s a mental health nurse practitioner who has also worked in cardiac care and emergency rooms.

During the pandemic, there was widespread talk calling medical professionals “heroes."

Blake Bowen says that sentiment is rejected by some he’s talked with.

"They want to tell the story of how it really is. It’s what was happening on a day-to-day basis," he said. "That’s why we wanted the actual storytellers to be the voices, to be the actual people themselves.”

Recently retired Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vailwill share the last story in the program. She was the face of the public health effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus locally. She also was subject to the abuse and threats many health officials experienced as a result.

Co-director Morgan Bowen says it was important to include her in the production.

“Linda was elevated into a status of knowledge and some level of authority of the subject for the county and spoke for us and navigated the community health response to the pandemic," he said.

There will be an audience Q& A after every performance, with shows at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. An accompanying installation features works inspired by the project created by artist Barb Whitney.

An Incredibly Human Thing will be staged in the Cancer Research Center at the new McLaren Hospital on Collins Road.

The show is free, but Peppermint Creek is asking people to register in advance on its website.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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