Careful, Guildhall School of Music & Drama/Kingston University
What is Careful?
Careful is an educational dance/theatre performance that recognises the fact that nurses feel – something overlooked in nursing research, policy and debate. The performance follows four nurses and a midwife as they interact with their patients. These encounters cumulatively stretch the nurse characters’ ability to give ‘compassionate care’ or to do so without emotional cost to themselves. The show is regularly performed to staff and students on the nursing degree programmes at Kingston University and to the public. The project is led by Dr Alex Mermikides (Guildhall School of Music & Drama) through her company Chimera and was developed in close collaboration with Sally Richardson and Terry Firth (Kingston University).
Audience members are addressed directly by the characters, as though they were patients (the first performance was even in a simulated ward, with audiences in the patient beds!). The 45-minute show is followed by a post-show discussion facilitated by its director and a nursing expert. Audience members analyse the impact of the characters’ words, looks and body language on the imaginary patients, and consider the characters’ unspoken feelings. This supports reflection on how care is performed, both on stage and off, and promotes emotional self-care. For Kingston nursing students, the learning experience is deepened through 90-minute group workshops, led by Careful performers that are now embedded in the nursing curriculum at the school.
Addressing nurses’ feelings is vital at a time when understaffing raises the risk of corrosive emotions such as compassion fatigue, de-motivation and burn-out. A night at the theatre will not solve systemic challenges, but audience surveys indicate that Careful encourages emotional self-care while prioritising patients. Workshop evaluation shows lasting impacts eg 85% of students reported that a single workshop positively impacted their non-verbal communication while on placement four months later. The team is now surveying the first graduates who have done the full course of workshops, aiming to contribute to evidence on the arts in clinical skills education. The Careful performance and workshops are scheduled to tour nursing departments around the UK in Autumn 2020.
Careful is dedicated to the nurses Alex met while supporting her brother through high-risk treatment for leukaemia.