Later this week, a cast of 15 local actors and actresses will take to the stage at The Playground @ The Adrienne Theater in Center City to share a story of one woman’s journey through life, and cancer. The Healing, billed as “a story of love, fame, hurt, and healing”, was written by Ontaria Wilson, physician secretary in the department of Radiation Oncology, based on her own experiences working directly with Radiation Oncology physicians and patients living “through” – not “with,” Wilson notes – cancer treatment.
The play tells the story of a woman in her 30s who is working as an up-and-coming actress when she is diagnosed with cancer. Wilson says inspiration for the story came from watching the “organic chemistry” she witnesses between patients and their clinical care teams on a daily basis. Focusing mainly on patient interactions with care teams, Wilson says everything in the show was born of a personal experience – either with a patient at Penn Medicine or as part of her father’s support system when he went through chemotherapy after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2006. The main character is loosely based on a former Penn Medicine patient with whom Wilson formed a bond, but Wilson says she hopes audiences will take from the play something much bigger than just the story of a woman living through cancer.
The Healing is a labor of love that started as a poem more than two years ago. Though new to play-writing, Wilson is a veteran poet who started writing in fourth grade and in previous years performed at poetry readings. As her poem grew, Wilson noticed characters starting to take shape and decided the story would be better served as a stage production. In early 2012, Wilson made a promise to God that she would finish the play by the end of the year. In living out her dream, Wilson says she is able to satisfy both her personal and professional lives.
“Choreography and the arts are my other life. I’ve been at Penn Medicine for over six years, but I have this other part of me that loves art, and dance and performing,” she said. “In writing The Healing, what I realized is that while choreography and the arts are my passion, my true calling is humanity and helping people, and that’s what I get to do every day.”
With two major dance numbers throughout the performance, The Healing depicts cancer patients as soldiers. Wilson says the production is her way of giving back to people what they pour out as they go through cancer themselves, or with someone.
“For people who are trying to make sense out of what happens during treatment, or why this happens to their loved ones, they can use the arts to help,” she said. “Working with the patients, I know their personal stories and I see the toll this takes. At the same time, working with the doctors, I see their love for their patients and the work that they do. It can be emotionally draining, but forming these bonds with patients is worth everything.”
Wilson says her goal in telling her main character’s story is to focus on living through cancer, living with purpose, and helping people to understand how to live through the journey.
Performances of The Healing will take place on Thursday, January 10, at 7pm and Friday, January 11, at 2pm. The Playground @ The Adrienne is located at 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $20. To purchase tickets, please visit www.thehealingplay.com or contact Ontaria Wilson at [email protected].