Friday, February 26, 2010

But You Seem Like a Pro To Me

"Well I suppose you're from an am-dram background but you seem like a pro to me," said one of the university teachers.

I think it was meant as a compliment but actually it displayed a wealth of lack of knowledge and I had to work hard at not being offended by it!

What I am is a Simulated Patient. I work from a brief, usually to improvise the role of a patient for the training or assessment of all different kinds of healthcare professionals. So, for example, they might need to practise taking a medical history, or explaining a procedure or - at a more advanced level - talking to a patient who's very depressed, or breaking bad news.

I am given the details of the topic to be covered, and how they want the character I'm playing to be - - nervous, calm, chatty, quiet - - that kind of thing.

And then the healthcare professional (medical students, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, physiotherapists etc) has a ten-minute conversation with me, improvising in the role of that patient. And then, in a teaching session, there's a lot of detailed feedback about what they did well, and what they might do differently.

There is no actual way to practise what you would say in any situation other than actually to say the words.

That's the essence of it.

Now then, many Simulated Patients are professional actors, and some aren't. I'm not: I used to be a teacher of English and Drama. But I've been working part-time as a Simulated Patient since - er - 1985 and there aren't many medical topics that I haven't worked on. There's no emotional state, no embarrassing ailment that I haven't done a roleplay about! I'm very proud of this work - the learners find it very useful and I find it very rewarding to do.

And I think that what I am when doing this work - (draws self up to full height in a rather pompous way) - is a professional roleplayer. It's got nothing to do with the "performance" element of acting, in that the focus is on the learner, not on my performance. I try to make it as real as possible and I'm always pleased when the learner gets really absorbed in it and says afterwards that it feels real.

But I suppose what I didn't like about what the teacher said today, was the implication that people who do this work are somehow "amateurs" - - - and oh look, the compliment was that I "seemed" professional. Well, so I should - I've been doing it - and getting paid for it - for years!

Though actually, amateur drama can be great fun and yes, I used to be very involved with it - though not usually acting. I've never enjoyed acting from a script. I can read a script, aloud, pretty well - - but then, unlike real actors, I just never get any better.

When I see professional actors rehearse I'm always amazed by how they can take a line that's written down and make it sound as though they've just invented it. I can't do that. I am fine improvising - I can do that until the cows come home. But I don't like saying lines from a script and I feel awkward all the time I'm on a stage.

So I was usually backstage, and sometimes I wrote Christmas shows for the group I was with, and I loved that too. Oh yes I did!

As you may have noticed, I'm very protective and proud of my roleplay work and actually I think it requires a high level of skill. That sounds as though I'm boasting - and perhaps I am, I'm certainly up on my High Horse of Pomposity this evening - but I just hate the implication that it's somehow an inferior kind of "acting".

I was planning to write something funny about it, but instead I've just gone off on a rant. Pah. It's been a long and tiring week and any wit I ever had lies in a crumpled heap on the floor.

But, on the topic of amateur drama - four thousand miles away in Florida - Silverback's blog post is extremely entertaining so I suggest you read that now, and I hope I'll have climbed down off my high horse by tomorrow.


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