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‘Do No Harm’: Local theater company tackling heavy issues through performance and discussion

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Told from the perspective of health care professionals, “Do No Harm” provides a bipartisan perspective in the wake of the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Presented by Summit Performance Indianapolis and IUPUI’s Department of Occupational Therapy, “Do No Harm: Working in Post-Roe Indiana” is an original one-act play exploring the aftermath of the Dobbs decision — which overturned Roe v. Wade in June of 2022 — which premieres at the Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center July 11 and 12 at 7 p.m. Followed by a panel discussion, the performance draws inspiration from patient experiences and testimony from local health care experts, said Dr. Sally Wasmuth, assistant professor in the department of occupational therapy at IUPUI.

“One thing that comes up a lot in the conversations that we had is it’s not as simple as maybe we want to make it out to be. It’s not really as simple as pro-choice versus anti-choice or pro-choice versus pro-life,” Wasmuth said. “That kind of dichotomy can actually be really harmful because … there are a lot of consequences of both sides of that that people maybe don’t fully understand or don’t anticipate.”

Lauren Briggeman, the founding artistic director of Summit Performance Indianapolis — a woman-focused theater company — collaborates with Wasmuth’s team at IUPUI to put on a yearly production that addresses prevalent issues in society — such as postpartum depression, addiction and racism, Wasmuth said.

The idea is to take issues — often regarding controversial or heavy topics — that affect diverse groups of people and present them through the lens of patients and those affected by them to get audiences to think critically.

Wasmuth said she and her team at IUPUI went out and conducted interviews with patients and health care providers as background for the production. Where most of their shows would be told from the patient’s perspective, Wasmuth said “Do No Harm” was unique in how it took a bipartisan approach from the health care provider’s standpoint and looked at how legislating reproductive health impacts the people who are supposed to be providing reproductive health care.

“You know, how are they impacted?” Wasmuth said. “How are they still able to practice in the way that they were educated to practice when they’re being sort of regulated in this way?”

After the interviews were completed and transcribed, Wasmuth said the team at Summit began drafting a script. Both the team of researchers and theatrical team are made up of a group of diverse voices, Wasmuth said. The script is also sent back to those who were interviewed — those who informed the production — for revision, clarification and approval.  

Theater is a medium which has consistently acted as a safe means to present and sit with heavy topics, and “Do No Harm” is no different, as it tackles themes surrounding the idea of respecting others, understanding the full implication of choice, the importance of critical thinking and reflecting on the world around us.

“Talking firsthand to the providers whose actual day-to-day work life is impacted by this and who are also directly seeing the patients that are impacted by legislation is really eye opening,” Wasmuth said. “We can have an idea that there are a lot of different perspectives and a lot of different information, but actually talking to people about their experience is always a really wonderful opportunity because we just learned so much about things that maybe we never thought of.”

Those who choose to see “Do No Harm” can expect a heavy but eye-opening performance, Wasmuth said. The 45-minute long one-act relies heavily on storytelling through its cast of four actors and dance movement. Although technically fictional, Wasmuth said it is directly based on real-life experiences, including tragic ones, and viewer discretion is advised.

“I think it sort of critically reflects on really important issues in our society,” Wasmuth said. “It’s really important to be a critical thinker, and to hear all sides of a topic, and to be able to respect each other’s beliefs, and perspectives, and choices. So, I think in that way, it’s important for young minds and adults alike to be able to reflect on what’s going on around us and understand the perspectives of others.”

After the show, a panel discussion with health care providers, legislators and academics in the field will take place. Wasmuth will moderate the discussion, and audience members will be able to ask questions and provide comment and feedback on the show.

“I hope that people walk away with a greater understanding of what it means when legislators are making choices about health care and not just in this area but in health care at large,” Wasmuth said. “What it means when you are no longer free to make health care decisions, you and your doctor who’s educated and trained to give you medical advice.”

“Do No Harm: Working in Post-Roe Indiana” takes place July 11 and 12 at the Phoenix Theater Cultural Center, 705 N. Illinois St., at 7 p.m. The show and discussion are free to attend, but guests must register ahead on Eventbrite.com. For more information, visit summitperformanceindy.com.

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or chloegm@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.

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