Anna Wehr

Interdisciplinary, Theatre, Interview, Review

January 21, 2020

Recently, I had the privilege of talking with Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, Artistic Director of TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine, about her start in theatre, her passions and her aspirations. She shared compelling insights on how the medical field can benefit from theatre and what’s she doing to make this happen. It’s my hope that her work continues to reach more and more people as the years go on.

Please enjoy snippets from our interview below.

Anna: What is your first memory of the arts?

Valeri:  I was a really shy kid. Very painfully shy actually. My mom enrolled me in an improvisation class in our youth community theater. I took the class with my best friends. I remember that we did this sketch comedy skit. It was the first time I had been in front of people in a way that I felt powerful and okay.

This moment changed Valeri’s life and put her on the path to become a professional actress. After a decade of this work she found herself on a new path, that of teaching.

Valeri: What I love the most about acting, what I still love the most is the process of rehearsal and really delving in and figuring out what makes up a moment. 

What I found from teaching was that my life became an examination of those moments and that to me became far more rewarding than rehearsing a play and then performing for months on end.

I was the director of acting at Stony Brook in the Stony Brook Theater Department for a while before I transitioned over into using these skills in science communication and now in medical communications.

She was later approached at Stony Brook by Alan Alda to develop a science communication program pilot and since creating that program her work has evolved into a focus on medical communications. The medical communications work she does right now, and curriculum she is creating for the medical field, comes from Stanislavski.

Valeri: That's where my true north is as a performer, so I'm excited to be using this area of my creative life and developing this curriculum. It's really about understanding characters. Where does the character come from emotionally? What is their goal? What's in the way? What’s the conflict? You know all of these Stanislavski ideas, and in theater we're working to build conflict, and in our curriculum, we're working to identify where the conflict lies so we can mediate it, so it's using the same principles but for a different end.

Anna: How does collaboration manifest itself in your work?

Valeri: In every corner. Every possible way imaginable. I always think that the best thing about me is that I know amazing people. What I love is learning new things and stuff that just cracks me open in a way that I haven't even considered before, and so those are always the partners that I'm looking for in my life and my work.

She also spoke to collaboration in the sciences, and how the sciences need other fields to function. 

Valeri: I think the sciences are becoming so much more collaborative. You know, no advances in science can even happen anymore unless you're willing to talk to people outside of your disciplines. 

I'm in with people really at the tops of their fields in areas of science and research and medicine, that I can't even imagine, and that they're willing and eager to listen to an actor is I mean, that's something, but I think it's because we all need each other to make this better. 

Another important aspect of any field is listening, which Valeri feels is one of the biggest impacts the arts has had on her. 

Valeri: I think the thing that I've always known, because I was a shy person, was how to listen. I was always much more comfortable listening than I was contributing, but I think understanding techniques to help other people understand how to listen is one of the things, that is the most profound thing that people leave knowing, and I'm really proud of that. 

Valeri even has her own interactive one-woman show she takes to different medical schools in order to inform other medical students and professionals about empathy. There is always something to learn and grow from, and Valeri continues to take in new knowledge and perspectives each day.

I am so excited to see the work Valeri does in the field by integrating theatre and medical communications. 

Cover Image Courtesy of TCU360