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Thursday, July 3, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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All the world's a stage in theatrical therapy group

Seattle Times staff reporter

The shipwreck victims thrashed back and forth across the deck of a makeshift boat. They huddled for safety, tumbled over each other, and struggled to stay alive.

The group only was acting out the opening scene of "The Tempest." But many who gathered in the Harborview Medical Center cafeteria to watch the play Monday night have survived the types of trauma William Shakespeare described in his story about loss, forgiveness and survival.

The performance was the beginning of an experiment aimed at using theater to help patients heal. Freehold Studio/Theatre Lab's Ensemble Training Intensive, a Seattle-based acting program, returned Tuesday and held interactive workshops with patients and therapists from the rehabilitation and psychiatric units.

"This is very much a pilot program," said Peggy Weiss, who works to introduce the arts to Harborview patients and their families. "We're trying to use theater, and to use the arts in more innovative ways than just entertaining."

"This play is about more than entertainment. It's about seeing how global themes are, that other people have gone through the things you're going through," said Kellie Cosner, who was hospitalized for months with a crushed pelvis and multiple broken bones after a falling tree crushed her sport-utility vehicle. "I think it's great. We never did anything like this while I was here."

Cosner, 27, was critically injured in the November 2001 crash, which killed her husband, Jason, as they drove through Mount Rainier National Park to celebrate their wedding anniversary. She said because "so much of recovery is about attitude," theater helps patients heal by getting them to focus on imagination and creativity.

During one workshop, trauma survivors and actress Katt Tait, who played the revenge-obsessed mother, Prospera, talked about vengeance and forgiveness.

"The guy who put me here should be burnt as bad as I am," said Stuart Lee Pritchard, a 23-year-old burn victim. "He should have to go through what I've gone through."

Pritchard said if the work conditions at the garage where he was a mechanic had been different, its propane heater never would have caught fire. That fire ignited gas that had spilled on him, causing third-degree burns on more than 40 percent of his body.

"Some people were born nice, and some were just born evil," Pritchard said.

Patients' honesty during the workshop is exactly what Freehold's artistic director, Robin Lynn Smith, was hoping for when she started the program. The troupe received funding for its community-outreach program from the Allen Foundation for the Arts and the City of Seattle Office of Art and Cultural Affairs. Freehold also is holding theater workshops in White Center, the Washington Corrections Center for Women, and the Echo Glen juvenile detention center.

Even patients who weren't big Shakespeare fans seemed to take lessons away from "The Tempest" workshops. Christine Duggan, a 33-year-old who suffered spinal-cord injuries in a March car crash, said she was glad the play "was a little heavy" because it helped her think about fear and forgiveness.

"I wasn't wearing a seat belt and I have to forgive myself for that," Duggan said. "Self-loathing is the worst."

After seeing Freehold's performance, Duggan, who will be released from the hospital today, is hoping to return to help out with her own form of interactive therapy.

"That play gave me a killer idea — karaoke," said Duggan, who plans to return to her career as a disc jockey. "If people are angry, they can sing Metallica. If they're sad, they can sing Joni Mitchell. Music is way therapeutic too."

Mary Spicuzza: 206-464-3192 or mspicuzza@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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