Voices of hope in dark times


An hour-long radio play aims to highlight the experience of those suffering chronic illness, writes SYLVIA THOMPSON

CREATIVE WRITING and art workshops in acute hospitals and classical music performances in daycare units have become almost commonplace in Ireland. But a play about chronic illnesses? Now, there’s something new.

When playwright Rebecca Moran was approached by the patient-led chronic disease self-management programme, Ceart PatientWise, to write a play based on people’s experiences of illness, she immediately responded with interest.

Together with Anne Cody from the Kilkenny-based initiative, Moran received Arts Council funding to research the possibilities of the community project. Initially, 18 people volunteered to participate in writing and theatre based workshops to develop a stage play.

The Arts Council funding was topped up to allow the group to expand – 61 people from Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Tipperary took part in total – and develop material for what culminated in a radio play which will receive its first broadcast in the coming days.

This reporter received a sneak preview of the hour-long play entitled A Time for Hope and Desperation. Broad in its scope, sincere in its focus and deeply moving, the play is a series of fictional monologues which give expression to the many fears and frustrations that a chronic illness brings to a person’s life.

The fictionalised accounts by men and women of all ages tell us of regretting lives not fully lived, the guilt and grief of burdening others, the anger of recent diagnosis, and the pain and lack of energy that chronic illness brings. Yet, there are other voices too – voices that express profound love for partners who have journeyed with them and appreciation of friends who pull them through the difficult times.

“My aim was to be sensitive to the participants and their individual situations and to create a safe, creative and open environment,” says Moran of the workshops. Of the play that emerged at the end of the process, she adds, “I go in with an empty box and fill it with what I’m told, with expressions that I see on people’s faces, with things that go unsaid.”

In this way, the participants share with an audience what it is like to live with a chronic illness. “I was blown away by the project,” says Claire Mulcahy who lives with chronic pain. “It opened up a whole new world for me and made me feel very good about myself.”

Doris Long was another participant. “Being involved in the workshops brought me out of what was a very isolating situation,” she explains.

“We had lots of fun and laughter. It also was a very powerful way for people to see how others often felt the same way as them. I have fibromyalgia, for which there isn’t a definitive test, so I get a lot of different professional reactions to my condition. It can be a very lonely place.”

Anne Cody is very pleased with the results of the workshops. “I had worked with Rebecca on other community-based projects. The aim is always to allow people to tell their truth – to get to the heart of the matter and to have fun, learn new skills and make new friends.”

Meanwhile, Moran is appreciative of KCLR 96FM for giving them a commercial-free hour to broadcast the play. “It’s an incredible gift that they have given us and I hope people will gather together in their homes to listen to the play,” she says.

The radio play, A Time for Hope and Desperation, by Rebecca Moran will be broadcast on KCLR 96FM tomorrow evening at 8pm and again on Sunday at 8pm. People in the Kilkenny/Carlow area can tune into the station on their FM band. Those in other parts of the country can listen to it on KCLR 96FM.com at the same time or at any time after the second broadcast.

Ceart PatientWise is a Kilkenny-based self-management course for people with physical and mental health problems. The six-week courses are facilitators by trained volunteers. Self-referrals are accepted. Tel: 087 9028534 or e-mail annecody@ceart.ie See also ceartpatientwise.ie