‘Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver' based on theater instructor's experience

April 14, 2010

Merri Biechler was living in Los Angeles pursuing her dreams in theater and television when first her mom and then her dad were diagnosed with terminal cancer.

After moving back to her native Oklahoma to care for her father and feeling overwhelmed when forced to make decisions about treatment and doctors, the actress and playwright knew she wanted to share her story with others.

Biechler's play "Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver" is based on her experiences. It will be performed April 22-24 in the New Theater at Indiana State University where she is a visiting instructor in the theater department.

"Specifically I wanted medical students and nursing students to see my play," Biechler said. "A doctor only sees a patient for a half hour, and there's all this life that goes on with the family outside of the doctor's office, so that was of interest to me, and I wanted them to see that."

The play is about a young woman who goes back home to care for her father in his last days. She has no siblings, which adds a dramatic element to the play. Her dad is somewhat difficult to get along with but he is funny. The mom kept the family together before her death, so the dad and daughter aren't sure how to relate to one another.

"The play is pretty sad; sad things happen," Biechler said. "There is some comedy in it. It's not all sadness and death."

Though the play is based on Biechler's life experiences, she did create differences to make it more dramatic. For instance, Biechler has two brothers, though the main character in the play is an only child.

The cast is made up of only three actors, which keeps the cost down. Biechler deliberately designed the play with a small cast, requiring the two older actors to play multiple roles as the younger actor plays only one role.

"I liked the theatricality of doubling parts because we never forget we're watching a play," said Biechler, who believes theater should not be as realistic as film. In fact, all the props used in the play are displayed on a prop table in full view of the audience.

At ISU, the play will be performed by Julie Dixon, associate professor of theater, Peter Ciancone, who has performed with Community Theatre of Terre Haute, and Paige Biggs, a senior theater major from Laurel.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $7.00 for the general public, or free to ISU students, and are available by calling 812-237-3333.

"Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver" has won awards and has been read in New York , Atlanta and New Orleans. It has also received grants from the American Cancer Society to be used as a teaching tool for medical students.

Biechler has enjoyed working with a variety of actors and watching them interpret the characters to make them their own.

"No two productions are ever the same," she said. "It's thrilling because theater is such a collaborative art form. When you hand someone a script, you never know how it will turn out."

Biechler wrote the play for her master's thesis at Ohio University. When Tom Sauer, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, read the play, he believed it would pique the interest of medical students and caregivers and serve as outreach to Union Hospital.

Biechler has enjoyed her time at ISU, she said, and looks forward to sharing her play with the audiences of Terre Haute before moving back to Ohio at the end of the spring semester.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/836747126_KFwV5-L.jpg - Merri Biechler (seated), visiting instructor of theater at Indiana State University and playwright for "Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver," a play based on her experiences in caring for her terminally ill father, poses with cast members (left to right) Peter Ciancone, Julie Dixon and Paige Biggs and stage manager Savannah Stevens.

Contact: Merri Biechler, visiting instructor of theater, Indiana State University, 812-237-3335 or merri.biechler@indstate.edu

Writer: Lana Schrock, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or lschrock1@indstate.edu