The Power of Theater in Dealing with End-of-Life Issues

By Sherry Williamson

Though he had spent more than half his career in parish ministry, the Rev. Donald J. Welch D’55 realized he was not prepared to deal with the multiple challenges of end of life.

“No matter whether your parish is made up of young or old, retired people or a mixture, many times each year you will have to try to help members of the congregation talk about these issues,” says Welch, resident minister at the Chapel in the Pines, an ecumenical congregation in Seven Lakes, N.C., and an assistant dean at Duke Divinity School in the late 1960s.

“My concern is finding ways to help spouses, grown children and siblings talk about these issues in advance so that they are better able to deal with death and dying,” says Welch, who recently contacted the Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life (ICEOL) for help with a church-sponsored series on end of life.

Welch says ICEOL offers valuable and badly needed resources such as Vesta, while serving as a comprehensive source to find information on end-of-life issues. Until now, he says, people have had to search a variety of places such as hospitals, the Internet, and legal offices for specific information depending on the need.

Vesta examines the realities of family life and decision making that we all face as our parents age and become progressively frail and in need of the care and support of their adult children,” says Dr. Richard Payne, director of ICEOL and a Duke professor of medicine and divinity. “The play has been performed in all parts of the country and brings the community together to learn about end-of-life needs and resources that the ICEOL and others can provide.”

ICEOL strives to make the play accessible to the community by requiring only a modest licensing fee so that Vesta remains affordable. The institute also provides a complete production package, including notes from the playwright, sample press releases and marketing materials, templates for graphics and formats for the post-performance talk-back sessions

“The beauty of the play is that it’s incredibly easy to perform, especially if performed as a staged reading,” says Jeanne Twohig, deputy directory of ICEOL. “You don’t need props or to memorize lines: the power of the play is the words and the characters.”

For more information about producing the play, call ICEOL at 919.660.3553.

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