“Cancer” is probably the most dreaded word in anyone’s vocabulary. Yet cancer is one of the most common diseases today, and breast cancer is the most common form of them all. According to the American Cancer Society Journal, 300,590 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year. Of those, 2,800 will be among men, and 297,790 will be among women.
On Saturday and Sunday, October 7th and 8th, members of Stage West Playhouse will perform “Breast Cancer Diaries,” a play written by Dr. Charley Ferrer, who is a breast cancer survivor. The play is a compilation of true stories about women and men diagnosed with breast cancer, sharing their fears, challenges and hilarious moments they experience. It will be interesting to see how a play on such a serious subject can be termed “a little bit of drama and a whole lot of comedy.”
All proceeds will go to the Cancer Tamer Foundation, a non-profit organization Dr. Ferrer founded. The organization is dedicated to empowering women and men diagnosed with breast cancer.
The play depicts not only the fears and challenges experienced by people with this disease but also their triumphs and hopes for the future. “Breast Cancer Diaries” would probably not have come about if Dr. Charley Ferrer hadn’t developed the disease herself. In 2016, at age fifty-three, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. She underwent treatment, fought the disease, and came out of it a changed person.
Dr. Charley, as her friends call her, was inspired to write this play after she “saw the disparity that was going on in the medical community, the lack of information that was being given to women and men about breast cancer.”
She wants not just the general public to see the show but would like medical professionals to see it because sometimes, doctors, without meaning to, are not sympathetic and respectful to their patients and don’t listen to them or accept some of their decisions regarding treatment.
It took Dr. Charley just three weeks to write the play because she had already gathered a lot of material from interviews with patients and documentaries she had filmed. Once the play was written, Dr. Charley and seven other women and one man performed the play at a hotel. All but two of the actors had survived breast cancer. Later, it played Off-Broadway. For Dr. Charley, the most rewarding aspect of writing and performing the play was seeing people come up to her afterward and thank her for giving voice to victims of cancer.
Along with Dr. Charley, Kathy Capelle, Patricia Colbert, Dee Curran, Michelle Kienzle, Donne Petito, Savannah Sikes, Theresa Stenger, and Paul Wade portray the real people this play is about.
Pam Dugle directs “Breast Cancer Diaries.” Ms. Dugle got her start in theatre at age five. As an adult, she performed in community theatres in Indiana but took a sabbatical when she went to college and then pursued a career in nursing. Once she retired in 2020, Pam got back into theatre.
Being responsible for a production that touches on serious and not-so-serious aspects of a topical theme can be intimidating for a first-time director, but Pam was fortunate to have a lot of support from Stage West veterans. Mark Burdette offered to be her assistant director; Sandy Penwarden acted as Stage Manager (an important person in any play); and Drew Hackworth was technical director, taking care of lights and sound. The experience has been immensely rewarding for her.
One of the most challenging aspects of directing for her was “blocking.” Blocking is the positioning of actors on the stage and determining how and where they should move for the proper dramatic effect, to ensure that the audience has a good view of the action, that no actor “upstages” another actor, and to make everything work with the lighting design of the scene. Ms. Dugle overcame these challenges by studying the stage directions in the script and modifying them when she felt that there was a better way to depict the scene.
“I got the cast up and moving more, and when I asked the cast how it made them feel, they liked it and got more animated. That’s how you get more motivation [from your actors].”
“As a nurse, we need to have more open dialogues with people about difficult topics. We are hopeful that this play will start this discussion and get more people talking and willing to be open,” Ms. Dugle stated.
Pat Colbert has been acting since she was in third grade. The schools she attended in Trenton, New Jersey, emphasized the arts, so Ms. Colbert wrote plays as well as acted. When she taught school, she had her Special Needs students perform in plays, and she also writes plays that are performed at her church.
To prepare for her role in “Breast Cancer Diaries,” Pat did Karaoke and practiced reading out loud to train her voice because she hadn’t been on stage in a while. She also went through physical therapy and acupuncture so that she could be on stage without her walker−something she has had to use for the past twenty years because of an illness. In order to get into her character, Pat talked to the real person she portrays and to her mother, who is battling breast cancer. “I’m really excited to be involved with a project that’s informing the community,” Pat remarked.
Kathy Cappelle has been acting since grade school. After moving to Citrus County, she joined a theatre group. When it folded, she and a couple of friends started a short-lived theatre group. They performed at community centers. During that time, Kathy starred in “The Belle of Amherst,” a one-woman show in which she portrayed Emily Dickinson. “One of the most rewarding things about being in this play,” Kathy remarked, “is getting to know new people and meeting Dr. Charley.”
Michelle Kienzle has been acting since she was seventeen. Two of her favorite roles were Phillipa/Pip in Agatha Christie’s “A Murder is Announced” and Mrs. Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol.” “I’ve been watching videos of breast cancer survivors in order to effectively convey all the emotions a person experiences when diagnosed with breast cancer,” Michelle commented.
“It’s been somewhat challenging to transition from the very dark emotions to the lighthearted/humorous emotions taking place throughout the play. I overcame this by processing that this is exactly how someone with breast cancer best perseveres through the diagnosis and by experiencing and feeling the roller coaster of emotions,” she concluded.
As stated earlier, all the profits from the ticket sales will go to the Cancer Tamer Foundation. There will only be two performances of Breast Cancer Diaries − Saturday, October 7 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, October 8 at 3:00 pm. NOTE: The Sunday show is at a different time from the usual Sunday performances.
You can purchase tickets at the door or online at www.stagewestflorida.com. You can also call the box office at 352-683-5113. Stage West Playhouse is located at 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd. in Spring Hill.