Award-winning actress and Lawrence University graduate Megan Cole shares her passion for communication, empathy and the connection between healthcare, the arts and the human spirit in a pair of programs during a visit to her alma mater.
Cole, who has appeared in more than 100 lead roles in theatre productions across the country, presents “Illness, Stigma and Being Female” Thursday, Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. in the Wriston Art Center Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.
Reading excerpts from their own writings, Cole will deliver first-person voices of five women who have suffered from stigmatizing illnesses that are particular to the condition of being female. Illustrated with accompanying slides, the program confronts the feeling of being seen as “different” while showing that the gap between the “self” and the “other” is largely illusory.
On Friday, Jan. 23, Cole performs the one-woman show “The Wisdom of Wit, an adaptation of Margaret Edson’s ‘Wit'” at 8 p.m. in Stansbury Theatre of the Music Drama Center. Ticket prices, at $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, are available through the Lawrence University Box Office, 920-832-6749. Tickets also will be on sale in the Stansbury Theatre Box Office one hour before the start of the show that evening.
Cole originated the lead role of distinguished English professor Vivian Bearing, later played by Judith Light, among others, in “Wit’s” premiere in 1995 at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, Calif. She later performed the role in productions in Seattle, Houston and Austin.
Awarded the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for drama, “Wit” follows the journey of Bearing’s profound and humorous reassessment of her life after being diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer and her treatment in an experimental chemotherapy program at a major teaching hospital.
Cole’s work in the theatre has been recognized with two Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle Awards and three Los Angeles Drama-Logue Awards. In addition to her stage work, she has made numerous television guest appearances, including roles on “ER,” “Seinfeld,” “The Practice,” “Judging Amy,” and “Star Trek,” among others.
Working in “Wit,” and hearing others’ tales of their own experiences with illness and death, inspired Cole to design an education course entitled “The Craft of Empathy” to show doctors-in-training how to use actors’ techniques to empathize with their patients. The course eventually led Cole to an appointment as a visiting professor of health and society at the University of Texas – Houston, where she continues to conduct workshops for health care students and professionals on the importance of empathic communication between caregivers and patients.
Active with the educational outreach wing of the Compassion in Dying Federation, Cole gives frequent public talks on the human face of health care and recently co-led the conference “Living Well and Dying Well” at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. She is presently working with the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston on a series of educational tapes of oncologists relating to the personal aspects of cancer care.
A native of Waukegan, Ill., Cole earned a bachelor of arts degree magna cum laude in English from Lawrence in 1963. She makes her home today in Nehalem, Ore.
Cole’s appearance is sponsored by Lawrence’s biomedical ethics, gender studies and theatre arts departments.