University of Iowa
The University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium received funding through the Creative Campus Innovations Program to collaborate with artist Rinde Eckert on a multidisciplinary project and play entitled Eye Piece. The project reached across The University of Iowa (UI) campus during the process of creating and contextualizing a play based on the experiences of people dealing with eye disease, including those who have lost or are losing their vision, their families, and the medical community who cares for them. Hancher developed a wide variety of partnerships with the Center for Macular Degeneration (CMD) in The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC), the Writing Program of the College of Medicine (COM), the Department of Theatre Arts, and others.
The play was created from stories that Eckert collected during multiple visits to Iowa City over 2½ years. The raw material was drawn from conversations with CMD patients and families, physicians, researchers, UI medical students, and medical fellows preparing for careers in treating eye disease. Eckert worked closely with students and faculty in Theatre Arts to develop the play, building the script around the 17 student actors cast in the ensemble piece. The play had one private performance for the CMD community and six public performances in February 2010.
The project was designed to put the performing arts at the center of academic life. Eye Piece integrated the arts into the UI’s mission of teaching, research, and service in a number of ways. In addition to developing the play, Eckert led workshops and discussions for the CMD community, UIHC physicians, and COM faculty and students. He was joined at public discussions by patients, CMD staff, and actors. There were two open rehearsals and a post-performance discussion with the entire cast. Eckert led “touch tours” before each show, inviting visually impaired audience members to visit the stage and feel the set so they could better follow the movement on stage. A broad range of people involved with Eye Piece, from medical students to student cast members to audience members, indicated a new understanding of vision loss as well as appreciation for the challenges that society offers to the visually impaired.
The COM and CMD hoped to advance their goal of training more compassionate doctors through Eye Piece. By meeting with Eckert and examining excerpts of the script over the course of two years, students have a deeper appreciation of the concerns of patients with vision loss as well as how it affects other people in their lives. This appreciation can be applied to patients with other diseases as well. The process also opened a window into the role that the arts can play in addressing this goal. They plan to continue the impact by showing a documentary about the creation of Eye Piece to future students and by engaging in future arts projects.
Eckert also led workshops in the Department of Theatre Arts and involved students in his creative process. Students studying acting, directing, dramaturgy, and design all reported a powerful learning experience, having gained insight into an unconventional creative process and having contributed to the creation of a compelling work.