“Grey’s Anatomy” isn’t the only place where medicine meets drama. The Bard Hall Players, a theater group run by the P&S Club of Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, brings together thespians from the Columbia University Medical Center to produce three shows per year.
This Thursday, the Bard Hall Players will present their fall musical, “My Favorite Year.”
“The set looks beautiful, the lights look great, so it’s well worth the trip from Morningside for the people who are down there to come see the show,” director and fourth-year M.D./Ph.D. student Shobhit Singla said.
Based on the 1982 film of the same name, the musical takes the audience back to the 1950s, when young sketch writer Benjy Stone learns that the star he’s idolized for his entire life is going to be a guest star on his television show. But when the actor arrives on set, reality sets in. Benjy must corral the washed-up, drunken Alan Swann and keep him presentable for TV.
“It’s about the realization that stars are human and all the funny things that happen on the set,” technical director and second-year medical student Alison Levy said. “It’s a really funny show, but there are also some real life lessons to be learned about expectations of people you idolize.”
The Players themselves have a history of subverting expectations. Established in 1967, the Players includes students and staff from the medical, nursing, dental, and public health schools, and the occupational therapy, physical therapy, and human nutrition programs.
The cast of “My Favorite Year” breaks the medical student mold, with some of its members hailing from undergraduate backgrounds and even conservatory programs in theater from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts and the Boston Conservatory.
For Levy, theater was “a big part” of her undergraduate life at the University of Pennsylvania.
After graduating from Penn, Levy worked for a few years and completed a pre-medical post-baccalaureate program. But Levy said her post-graduate hiatus from theater left her feeling empty.
“One of the big reasons I was attracted to Columbia for med school was because of the focus on extracurriculars here,” she said. “They make it such a priority that you shouldn’t just be doing medicine all the time. It makes it really hard to relate to your patients if you don’t know what life outside the hospital is like.”
This emphasis on life outside the lab also attracted Singla to Columbia.
“It actually factored into my decision to come here, and it factors, actually, in a lot of people’s decisions to come here,” he said. “It’s such a unique thing and gives you something to do outside of medicine. Having these outside interests is so important to being a good physician.”
The Players agree that theater will prove to be relevant to their future careers.
“I think one of the most important things that everyone learns from theater is how to work as a team and how to deal with personalities that are different from yours,” Levy said.
Theater not only develops collaborative skills, but it also connects with the “human aspect” of being a physician, according to Singla. “You have to be able to relate to patients in a certain way, be able to talk to them, be able to think on your feet, and I think doing theater helps you do all of that.”
As for the more immediate future, theater also relieves school-related stress, the Players say.
“It’s such a great support group,” Levy said. “Things can get to you, but if you have this group of people who share this interest, it’s so great that you can have people to talk to in the class above you and in the class below you. We end up mentoring each other through the process.”
But putting on a show while being a student also poses its challenges.
“Considering the sheer enormity of the BHP time commitment, the question of balance is a tough one,” second-year medical student David Chapel wrote in an email. Chapel plays Alan Swann, works as the show’s producer, and serves as the Players’ co-president along with Levy, and second-year medical students Jennifer Russo and Kevin Hu.
“We could all devote our lives exclusively to medicine, and seemingly endless work would still remain to be done,” he wrote. “So the question for me becomes, ‘How can I devote my professional career to healthcare without also neglecting my personal life and my own well-being?’ BHP is, for me, a token of the personal balance I will have to create in order to maintain that well-being, which I ultimately feel is essential for professional reliability and sustainability.”
Performances are Nov. 1-3 at 8 p.m. each night, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday in Alumni Auditorium. Tickets are $10 at the door (cash and check accepted). Tickets are not available at the TIC.
Correction: An earlier version of this article did not include Kevin Hu as one of the four co-presidents of the Bard Hall Players. Spectator regrets the error.