Tagged with: acting disability movement spinal cord injury
Have you heard the one about the orthodontist who played Hamlet?
Well, the audience was so impressed they had to brace themselves!
Imagine a man, 79 years of age, a husband, father of 6, practicing orthodonture for over 30 years. This man is driving to work when he is hit by a speeding car, helicoptered to the hospital, and told when he comes out of a coma that he has a complete C3 spinal cord injury (SCI) and the only movement he will regain is shrugging his shoulders.
This man, Dr. Jim Bloom, began moving one of his thumbs while in Neuro ICU and his diagnosis changed from complete SCI to incomplete C3-C5 without bilateral symmetry. He moved from the hospital to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital and, nearly five months after his injury, home. He continued outpatient physical and occupational therapy after moving home. After therapy, he came to Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama, for aquatic body work and land-based personal training. Dr. Bloom regained some strength in his upper body and his range of motion and dexterity improved. He made progress in strengthening his legs. Dr. Bloom and his family were 100% dedicated to improving his quality of life. Their dedication was paying off and he was progressing, but after 4 and 1/2 years Dr. Bloom’s motivation was waning and the work sometimes felt tedious. He was also experiencing some depression.
What now? On a whim, Dr. Bloom’s son, Jim, asked me, Elizabeth Vander Kamp, aquatic specialist at Lakeshore Foundation, if I would be interested in giving his father acting lessons, as he had heard that I was an actor. “Yes, I would love to,” I replied. So in June of 2012, Dr. Bloom and I began meeting once a week for one hour in his home to act. You might be asking yourself, acting? What does acting have to do with rehabilitation? What does acting have to do with movement? What does acting have to do with strength and dexterity?
As Dr. Bloom and I happily discovered, everything! Acting is living made large! Actors train their bodies, voices, imaginations, minds, and memories to reveal the human condition. They mine their hearts for emotional and sensorial memories. Actors experiment with movements attached to emotions. They try leading with emotion to discern if that changes the movement. They learn lines and become different people. They react to their fellow actors. In a word, actors are Alive!
The first work Dr. Bloom and I did together is called the Mirror Exercise. Two people sit (or stand) facing each other, maintaining eye contact. One person is designated the leader and begins moving. The follower’s job is to move with the leader – as a mirror image. Then the follower becomes the leader and it begins again. The benefits of this exercise are concentration, connection with the other person, and movement that is unexpected.
From here, we experimented with fake opera singing, smacking gum, tongue twisters with gestures, charades, tug of war … and then …
In December of 2012, Dr. Bloom gave his first public performance in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I played Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother. We found that Dr. Bloom is, in his own words, quite a “showoff.” His performance exuded confidence and vitality. His movements were strong and his voice clear. People asked how long he had been acting – “Surely you have done this before?” No, but plans are in the works another performance. This time Dr. Bloom will play the title role in Shakespeare’s Richard III.
So, orthodontists can be actors? Yes! Stay tuned for more in this series on ACT2MOVE and MOVE2ACT!