On the evening of Friday, Jan. 26, an ordinarily calm and quiet hallway in the midst of the Miron Student Center was unusually lively and spirited as students, faculty members and groups of parents patiently waited across the wooden doors of the Miron Student Center (MSC) Little Theatre, anticipating the moment of entering the confines of the venue to enjoy the day's experience.
This experience, a play written by Kean alumna Megan Bussiere titled Talk To Me: A Reading About Aphasia, grasped the attention and interest of the audience, as laughs and educational opportunities that focused on the disease of aphasia were presented during the readings.
Inside, chatter was heard from theatre enthusiasts and students, as they awaited the excitement and enjoyment that the upcoming performance would bring. At around 6:30 p.m., the lights dimmed and the show began. Fans of the performance eagerly waited in their seats and were treated with a theatrical performance that would revel in their memories.
As the lights gleamed onto the stage, the sound of the popular children's song, You Are My Sunshine was heard from horizontally opposite ends of the stage, with performers holding heavy black binders filled with reading notes. Then, a young woman and young man walked up to two tall music stands, in which their notes were placed upon. Four elderly men soon progressed to do the same and placed their notes on separate music stands, waiting for their turn to speak their lines. The play had begun.
Talk To Me: A Reading About Aphasia was a story about two young caretakers by the names Tom and Maeve, two graduating students working in the field of speech pathology in their final semester. Tasked with the ability of practical application in the form of helping out elderly men and women with brain disorders, most notably aphasia, the two try to manage caring for their patients, keeping their beloved institution operational during a financial struggle, and for one caretaker, the stress of winning over his counterpart as the story's love interest.
Throughout the play, audience members learned about the disease, which affects more than 200,000 people a year and is directly caused by brain injury from a stroke or head trauma. The disorder negatively affects one's cognitive ability to verbally communicate or write messages, meaning that every other physical bodily function may be working, but one cannot speak or say what they want to say on paper.
Through the reading's comedic moments of Tom's experience in working with his patients, or the sentimental and emotional instances of Maeve helping her disorder-stricken father understand who she is while accepting her father's apology for leaving her family when she was young, the play was graciously accurate in defining not only what the disorder does to the patient, but what it does to the family members, friends and caretakers around them.
Bussiere, the artist responsible for writing the play, performed in it for the first time on the Friday evening. Her inspirations for the play were based off of her experiences as a graduate student, as she did an internship at the Institute for Adults Living with Communication Disabilities (IALCD), helping those who had aphasia and other mental disorders during her studies. While majoring in speech pathology and minoring in theater during her undergraduate years, Bussiere combined her love for theater and helping people learn to speak again motivated her in writing this story.
"I was so moved by the people that I met there: the people who were receiving medical services, the caretakers, family members and their individual stories. Post-stroke or post-injury, they all had rich histories and lives before their struggle. So, it made me happy to be able to see how their lives shifted afterward," Bussiere said. "At one creative moment, I sat down and tried to recreate my friends's stories and relive some of that time. From that point on, it started to have a life of its own. I really enjoyed my four years of writing this story and going back to it, making changes, putting more and more of myself into it, more edits, a lot of readings, and they have all helped a lot."
After the conclusion of the production, a short question and answer session was presented by the many actors and actresses of the show, including Bussiere. Answering each question with the utmost sincerity, the playwright expressed her appreciation for her new actress role.
“I have been a producer, a writer, and now I have taken the role of an actor. It was hard to take those other hats off and not worry about all of the little details and just perform it,” Bussiere said. “It was really moving for me in full-circle. I was able to get lost in my character and discover new things. I just love all of the characters and I really do believe in this story.”
The audience members present in the Little Theatre that night also noticed the joy and passion that Bussiere gave to her new role at her alma mater. Wesley Williams, a senior majoring in speech, language and hearing sciences, not only learned more about aphasia, but loved how it taught him a story.
“Through my coursework [at Kean], I have learned a lot about aphasia from my books, and I have gotten to meet individuals with the disorder,” Williams said. “Seeing this play really allowed me to reflect on those experiences, and it was great to see it dramatized.”
For more information on Megan Bussiere and her play, visit her official website meganbussiere.com.
A great experience, laughter, emotions and an educational experience await anyone who is, or has been, affected by aphasia, or for someone who wishes to learn about the disorder in a funny and educational way.