There are few universal truths we, as humans, understand during our time on planet Earth: the empathy felt for a sick child is one of those certainties.
But it’s not always empathy and those who express it that helps young souls heal from situations outside of their control.
Sometimes the right medicine is a trip through the imagination.
Phoenix Theatre, Arizona’s largest producing professional theater, is expanding its Partners That Heal, A W.O.N.D.E.R. Project to the Mayo Clinic Scottsdale, 13400 E. Shea Blvd. where professional actors perform bedside for children overcoming difficult circumstances.
Phoenix Theatre is at 100 E. McDowell Road in Phoenix.
“Partners that Heal brings local actors into Mayo Hospital in Scottsdale to interact bedside with very sick children to bring some laughter into their young lives, even if it is only for a few short moments,” said Scottsdale Charro Todd Peterson.
“The actors create magic for the child and visiting family members that helps soften the hard edges of the hospital setting, bringing joy back to the participants each time they laugh. A mother of a young child with an inoperable brain tumor told Phoenix Theatre: ‘Thank you for working to bring joy to these children who need it so desperately and for taking some of that burden off the parents.’”
While the Partners That Heal program is established and has been providing regular service to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Thunderbird Medical Center Phoenix Theatre officials are expanding the program into Scottsdale.
The Scottsdale Charros, through The Charro Foundation, provided Phoenix Theatre, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, with a $2,500 grant this past year to help the program’s expansion into the Mayo Clinic.
“The gift of interaction and caring is what these children really crave and, so often, organizations mistake that for wanting ‘things,’” Mr. Peterson said, who is patron of the Charros this year and longtime advocate of local community theater.
“We don’t need more stuff — we need more compassion and laughter!”
For 56 years the Scottsdale Charros have been in constant pursuit of improving the lives of Scottsdale residents while preserving the community’s ties to its western heritage.
For Mr. Peterson, the gift of theater is everlasting.
“The theater is such a great outlet for performers and patrons alike. It gives us all the opportunity to ‘travel’ to another time, country or culture and to experience something different from who we are, where we live, or what we do,” he said. “It helps us expand our mind. When done properly, we don’t ‘see a show’ but are actually transported to another ‘reality.’”
Michael Dobbs, Phoenix Theatre institutional advancement manager, says the Partners That Heal program is second to none.
“Our research has shown no evidence of any program providing a similar service nationally,” he said in a prepared statement.
“Partners That Heal sends specially trained theatre artists into hospitals to create one-of-a-kind experiences for children and their families using a vast canon of nearly 300 performing-arts-based interventions. Team members are frequently able to provide hospital staff with tactical information obtained during patient visits, and this often helps open up communication between patients and their caregivers. What childhood illness has taken away, Partners That Heal strives to give back.”
Mr. Dobbs points out the primary partner in Phoenix Theatre’s effort has been the Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
“Phoenix Children’s Hospital has been our primary partner since the program’s inception eight years ago,” he explained. “We are also working with Banner Thunderbird Medical Center, District Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic Center for Humanities in Medicine. During the 2015-16 season, Partners that Heal delivered services to 8,710 children and families.”
Mr. Dobbs says the creation of art and the appreciation of expression is something all humans ought to experience.
“The arts are an inseparable part of the human journey requiring collaboration, communication, creativity and understanding,” he said.
“As the largest producing theatre in Arizona, Phoenix Theatre is keenly aware of its responsibility to our community. We are committed to offering world class experiences, providing visionary leadership, and developing new artists, new voices and new arts organizations.”
Being that leader, Mr. Dobbs says in this case, is making sure those going through difficult times get an opportunity to take the same journey many of us may take for granted.
“We are on the precipice of a wonderful partnership with Mayo Clinic and are now able to utilize their name and logo on Partners That Heal information and collateral,” he said. “This alliance should prove extremely to Partners That Heal, as the cache and reputation of The Mayo Clinic carries great weight toward our efficacy.”
While Phoenix Theatre is outside of Scottsdale city limits, Mr. Peterson says oftentimes rising tides float all ships.
“Many citizens crave the cultural aspects of what their community has to offer,” he said. “Companies want to relocate to cities that have a wide variety of arts activities for their employees to enjoy. It is good for business. It is also good for our children to learn about diversity in arts programing.”
For Mr. Peterson supporting the arts is part of his genetic make-up, he says.
“My mother played the accordion on radio shows when she was young. I have performed in many musicals, plays, bands and choirs during my life. My children are in youth theatre shows, dance competitively and play musical instruments today,” he said of the joy the Partners That Heal seeks to bring to the afflicted.
“Going to the theatre for me is an escape from reality for a couple of hours. It is entertainment, yet it makes you think about new ideas, challenges you on how you view the world and lets you marvel at the many talents of the performers/artists no matter the type of art you’re viewing.”
Go to phoenixtheatre.com.
–By Terrance Thornton