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'Wit' actress to share message on empathy at Wichita State

Friday, January 16, 2009 | Share

Actress Megan Cole has a message for medical students, and anyone else dealing with the life-and-death struggle that is cancer: It’s not only all right to have empathy for patients, it’s a vital part of their care.

Cole will share the message when she performs her solo version of Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play “Wit” in “The Wisdom of WIT” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 22, in Miller Concert Hall.

The event, co-sponsored by the WSU College of Fine Arts, Kansas Health Ethics Inc. and Harry Hynes Hospice in partnership with the KU School of Medicine-Wichita, is free and open to the public.

In addition, Cole will give a free workshop for WSU students from 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Thursday in 209 Hubbard Hall. The workshop, in Tom Frye’s Art of the Theatre class, is open to all WSU students.

The Seattle-based Cole, whose acting experience spans classical stage performance to parts in “Seinfeld” and “ER,” originated the role of poetry professor Vivian Bearings in the California premiere of “Wit” in 1995. Emma Thompson played the part in the 2001 Mike Nichols’ movie.

As Cole portrayed a steely academic transformed by cancer and her brilliant but detached doctors, she went through her own profound change.

She was touched not only by the play’s message of compassion and wholeness, but by the audience members who would come backstage to talk to her about their experiences.

That’s the short story of how Cole came to develop a course for medical students on empathic listening, based on techniques actors use for getting into the emotions of their characters without losing intellectual control.

She has presented “The Craft of Empathy” to medical students at Texas and New York universities, and hopes to expand the course to physicians in residency.

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