Theater production explores wonders of human brain

'BrainWorks' on stage July 19-21

BrainWorks rehearsal
Albert Kim, PhD, MD (left), and Eric Leuthardt, MD, help prepare July 1 for the live theatrical performance of “BrainWorks,” taking place July 19-21. “BrainWorks” also will air on the St. Louis public television station Nine Network. The program dramatizes real-life neurological cases to reveal the science behind brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and stroke. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

Two nationally renowned neurosurgeons at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis will present “BrainWorks,” a live theatrical performance that explores the wonders of the human brain by dramatizing real-life neurological cases.

The performance, comprised of four one-act plays, will debut July 19-21 at the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts at Webster University.

Albert Kim, PhD, MD, associate professor of neurological surgery, and Eric C. Leuthardt, MD, professor of neurological surgery, will guide the audience through each scene as they explain the mysteries of the human brain and the neuroscience of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, brain tumors and stroke. Kim and Leuthardt teamed up with playwrights from the New Dramatists to write each one-act play; the scenarios are based on patients the doctors have treated.

“We have involved conversations about what’s going to happen – the course of treatment, the risks and benefits,” Kim said. “We also ensure the families become involved in those conversations. Together, the patient and family members become a part of the process that transforms and heals them. It’s this kind of conversation we want to bring to others through ‘BrainWorks.’”

Both Kim and Leuthardt perform surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and are also co-hosts of the “Brain Coffee” podcast. Kim also is an associate professor of neurology and of developmental biology; Leuthardt also is a professor of neuroscience, of biomedical engineering and of mechanical engineering and materials science, as well as director of the Center for Innovation in Neuroscience and Technology.

BrainWorks cast rehearses
Eric Leuthardt, MD (left), and Albert Kim, PhD, MD, work with cast members in rehearsing for the theatrical performance of “BrainWorks.”  (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

The four one-act plays that make up “BrainWorks” are:

  • Rinse & Repeat: A retired judge prepares for the case of her life while her granddaughter does her best to get through breakfast. This play highlights the challenges, the love and even the humor involved in having (or caring for someone who has) dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
  • X Marks the Spot: Inspired by a number of patient stories from Barnes-Jewish Hospital, this fascinating play focuses on a mid-career professional whose personality undergoes profound changes caused by meningioma, a treatable, benign brain tumor. As the story unfolds, Kim reveals how brain tumors form and develop. He then discusses surgical advances that make removing them safer for patients today.
  • Brain Interrupted: This coming-of-age story examines epilepsy and its effects on the brain. Leuthardt walks audiences through the neuroscience of adolescence and epilepsy and discusses new brain-mapping technology that eases the suffering of those who live with seizures.
  • Double Windsor: The Double Windsor knot is elegant, dignified and difficult to tie under the best of circumstances — and seemingly impossible if you’ve suffered a stroke and lost use of your left hand. Inspired by one of Leuthardt’s patients, this scene demonstrates how new therapies and emerging technologies, such as the brain-computer interface, are making second chances possible for people who have experienced stroke and other traumatic brain injuries.

“BrainWorks” is a partnership between Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the Nine Network of Public Media. The production eventually will be transformed into a series of broadcast programs to air in St. Louis on Nine PBS, and potentially, on public television stations across the country in 2020. Kim and Leuthardt will narrate the on-air series. The previous “BrainWorks” broadcast, which originally aired in 2015, won a Regional Emmy in 2016.

Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased online via EventBrite.

Read more in Outlook about the research that inspired the theater production.

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