Cicada stories was created to examine how citizenship, chronic illness, and ethnicity interact to shape experiences, based on the pandemic experiences of people from all across the nation. The interactive dramatisation presented some of these stories on September 20 at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London, and posed the question, "What can we learn from these experiences?" to the audience. General interview findings and verbatim text taken directly from semi-structured interviews were used in the dramatisation. Dave Neita and Indira spoke poetry that expressed the inner world of the people's stories. The script was created in collaboration with theatre professionals (writers, director, producer). Five stories were dramatised and a dance was performed.
The first story showed how Stefan, a native of Slovakia, struggled to get healthcare through the NHS and was unable to get a GP appointment despite mental health issues caused by being a migrant in the UK away from his family. He spoke about discrimination based on his accent too.
In the second story, Aleena, who is of Pakistani heritage, discussed with her trainee doctor son her lack of trust in the NHS and the myths about the NHS that she has been told within the community.
Following these first two stories, Zara enters the hallway for a dance performance that captures the fear and loneliness of lockdown before evoking optimism for the future.
Then the third story, involving Zara’s grandma Geeti, started. Geeti revealed that she must work in a factory in poor conditions, as an undocumented person, risking covid, in order to afford a private doctor for the treatment of her diabetic eye problems. But the work worsens her eye problems in a vicious cycle. She does not use the NHS because she is undocumented.
The fourth story then began by expressing Suresh’s religious beliefs. Suresh explained to Jim, a customer at his store, that many followers of his religion believe Covid was a punishment given out by God to the populace. Followers believe that if something is religious, it should be fought in a religious manner rather than with vaccines and drugs. Suresh however suggests that religion and medicine can work in parallel.
The fifth story touches on racism through Myra's monologue. Myra, a middle-class educated, active, and slightly stressed Pakistani woman, was made to feel different, or 'special' because of her vulnerability. She felt messages could be conveyed differently, for example saying what she could do, to feel ‘not so special’. She said:
"[…]So thank you, NHS, for recognising I'm special. Thank you for your letters. All these letters. All these letters full of warnings. You can just die if you leave the house, you can die if you travel, you can die if you sit on a bus! What are we to do? I remember when I was pregnant they used to say oh well, you're Asian.You're definitely going to get diabetes. You're definitely going to... I remember that feeling that it would put me off because if I was back in Pakistan I don't think they would say it like that.I suppose they are trying to be helpful. They could be more considerate."
When the lights turn back on, Stefan's first story resumes. The doctor's voice on the phone jolts Stefan awake. Stefan asks for an appointment and the doctor replies,"Of course you can, why didn't you say so?" Stefan breathes a sigh of relief as the music ends the scene.
Dave Neita then asks Professor Carol Rivas (CICADA study PI and theatre performance producer) to address the key issues raised by these stories.
Source: Dave Neita’s Twitter handle
Dave: In your study, one of the things one of the themes, we saw themes of health, health inequities, beliefs, difference, we saw the NHS play here, but one of the things we're, almost running through, pieces of communication, what is being said, and what's being heard and what's not being heard? And I just wonder, Carol, in your study here, um, what did you learn about communication, the value, the importance of it, and about those who have had deafness to difference?
Carol: So communication here is all about trying to understand the other person. And so you saw some examples in these plays where people didn't trust the NHS. And it's because of communication issues. So, for example, the undocumented migrant – Geeti's story. So she was using doctors that she had to pay for because she didn't have access to the NHS. But we also found that people who had access who came on indefinite leave to remain visas and could use the NHS still chose not to, because they felt that there wasn't good communication with the with the doctors, so they couldn't afford to, but they were paying for private health care. So communication is a big issue […]
A member of the study team held post-dramatisation informal chats with the audience to comprehend the impact of the stories and foster debate.
An academic audience member felt that,
"The CICADA Stories performance was absolutely brilliant. The team managed to combine beautiful spoken word poetry, with dance, drama and incredible qualitative data to create an extremely moving evening of theatre. I cannot imagine how much work went into this but it is an absolute model of how to make research come alive to an audience. Public engagement at its best."
Another professional audience member noted how realistic Cicada stories are.
"Thinking about the work I've done with people with ethnic minoritised groups–the communication becomes much more important. All the stories sounds like realistic, and it was very realistic."
Audience members expressed how they learned about real-world situations from the stage performance and were able to translate from the specific to the more general. Most audience members claimed that the dramatisation accurately reflected their own professional or personal circumstances.
According to audience members, the stories as they were dramatised were also universal. One audience member commented on Aleena’s narrative, saying, “When I compare it with my birthplace, Pakistan the situations presented were quite similar” and another stated, “Thoughts on religion and vaccines are the same in my country. I recognise it fairly well.”
Several audience members also praised the use of dramatisation as thought-provoking and authentic, and they went on to describe how the performance deepened their knowledge of and comprehension of how to utilise art to portray stories.
“A wonderful production that tells a very realistic story. Beautiful use of poetry to convey a sense of vulnerability and helplessness.”
“The goal of increasing understanding from many stories was unquestionably accomplished, from the research to the performance and poetic aspects.”
A female audience member responded to Myra’s narrative about "being special", "isolation", and "stigma" in these circumstances.
“Thank you for bringing up the stigma surrounding diabetes in South Asians. The stigma needs to be eliminated, and awareness. Events like the ones you are running should be supported.”
The dramatisation also encouraged people to ask questions. We also saw that the conversation evolved into a more inclusive discussion that included additional audience members, hence increasing involvement and engagement.
We received feedback from the majority of the audience that they would like to see more Cicada stories. Most respondents in the post-event evaluation survey say they came to see CICADA stories to understand how research may be presented in this way. Several survey participants wrote,
"Good theatre is an extremely powerful way of getting a message […]”
"I think this excellent way to approach wider audience.”
"It communicates in a diverse and exciting language […]”
Our audience members also asked when more stories would be available to view. Cicadas are widely recognised for having a tendency to completely vanish for extended periods of time before coming back in full force on a predictable schedule. Much like their gestation period, we will try to come back with CICADA 2.0!