McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Participatory theatre addresses health issue of the extremely poor in Niagara

Published: November 2, 2016

A play that addresses the health issues of very poor people in the Niagara Region and invites the audience to be involved is being staged on Sunday, Nov. 6.

The theatre production, arranged by students of the Niagara Regional Campus of McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, is aimed at finding ways for people living in extreme poverty to improve their access to the Niagara health care community.

The medical students interviewed members of this group, and then worked with a Toronto theatre company Branch Out Theatre to create the play called Gerbils. The project is part of the students’ initiative called Health and Equity through Advocacy, Research and Theatre, or HEART.

Although not open to the public to attend, the students have arranged for three shows for local audiences. A show for medical and nursing students was held two weeks ago. On Sunday there is a matinee for area health care professionals and a late afternoon performance for people living in extreme poverty at the Robertson Theatre of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines.

At each performance, the play is repeated twice, with members of the audience welcomed to take the place of an actor during the second performance if they have a solution or different turn of events to suggest.

Each performance is followed by a panel of representatives of Niagara municipal, health system, social services and community representatives discussing the issues raised with the audience. The students plan to produce a policy brief on behalf of the people living in extreme poverty.

Rahat Hossain, a spokesperson for the team of second year medical students, said they want to hear about “the problems with health care in the Niagara area from the individuals with the most experience”.

“For change to be meaningful, it has to address the issues the community finds the most hindering to their healthcare,” he said.

“To be using their viewpoints and ideas for health policy reform really embodies health equity. We want other healthcare professionals and students to get excited about this, and realize how important it is to tailor the healthcare system to those it aims to serve.”

St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik will attend the performance for people living in extreme poverty, and lead the follow-up discussion. The other second year medical students involved in the project include Natalie Ramsay, Michael Milo and Mo Moore.

Karl Stobbe, regional assistant dean of the Niagara Regional Campus of the medical school, said: “Science is not the only way to create knowledge that can lead to social change, and with this theatre production our students are on to something. This format is powerful and will empower the homeless to make their health needs addressed.”

The website for the project may be found at


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