'Voices from Central State' begins with one-woman show adapted from patient's 1886 memoir

  • Aug. 23, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

INDIANAPOLIS -- "Voices from Central State," based on writings by patients at what was Indiana's flagship psychiatric institution for nearly 150 years, begins with a one-woman show adapted from a patient's memoir published in 1886 about her seven-year hospitalization.

The show, titled "Then There Is No Need to Speak," will be performed at 7 p.m. Aug. 26 and 27 at the Indiana Medical History Museum, 3045 W. Vermont St.

Each night, the 60-minute performance will be followed by a brief historical presentation by Kathleen Brian, a cultural and intellectual historian at Western Washington University who specializes in histories of science, medicine and public health.

The production is directed by Terri Bourus, a professor of English drama in the School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and founding artistic director of Hoosier Bard Productions. The script was adapted by Thomas Hummel from Anna Agnew's memoir, "From Under a Cloud." The patient, Anna Agnew, will be portrayed by Indianapolis actress Denise Jaeckel.

"What we're looking to do with 'Voices from Central State' is tell an alternative kind of history through creative formats," said Elizabeth Nelson, an associate faculty member in the Department of History at IUPUI and director of public programs at the Indiana Medical History Museum. "Most histories of medicine or mental health care are written from the point of view of doctors and administrators. It's rare to have the patient perspective."

"What we call mental illness -- what our ancestors would have called 'madness' -- has been part of the Western dramatic tradition for at least 25 centuries," Bourus said.

This interest in madness is part of drama's fascination with extreme situations and extreme emotions," Bourus continued. "At its best, theater makes it possible for spectators to imagine what it would be like to be another person, strikingly different from themselves. Theater provides us with a vicarious experience of the 'other.' That's why memoirs, like Anna Agnew's, are so invaluable. Agnew's memoir tells a story of mental illness from the inside."

The Indiana Medical History Museum is housed in the former department of pathology of the Indiana Hospital for the Insane, later known as Central State Hospital.

The second program in the "Voices from Central State" series, "I Remember Jones," will take place at 6 p.m. Sept. 26 and 27 at the museum. Nanette Vonnegut, daughter of acclaimed author Kurt Vonnegut, will read a short story by her maternal grandmother, Riah Cox, about her hospitalization in the 1940s.

Along with Jane Schultz, an IUPUI professor of English, Vonnegut will discuss a number of themes related to Cox's story, including how mental illness affects families, the historical role of the nurse and the power of the arts to promote recovery.

The third program, titled "Leaving Home," is an exhibit featuring newsletters produced by patients in the years leading up to the hospital's closure in 1994. The exhibit opens Nov. 10 at the museum. That evening's program begins with a 6 p.m. panel discussion about how the closing of the state hospital affected patients as well as Central Indiana residents who developed mental illness after the closing. Attendees may browse the exhibit beginning at 7 p.m.

All three programs require advance registration on the museum's website. "Then There is No Need to Speak" is $5 for the public and free for students. "I Remember Jones" and the "Leaving Home" exhibit opening are free. "Leaving Home" will be on display at the Indiana Medical History Museum through March 2017.

"Voices from Central State" is supported by the IU New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities program, IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Arts Council of Indianapolis. It is presented by the Indiana Medical History Museum and the Medical Humanities and Health Studies program in the School of Liberal Arts with assistance from Discover Near West Indys.

Denise Jaeckel portraying Anna Agnew in "Then There Is No Need to Speak."

Denise Jaeckel portraying Anna Agnew in "Then There Is No Need to Speak."

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Richard Schneider