English professor Nancy Barry’s ‘Lessons from Cancer College’ runs Feb. 19-28 at ArtHaus, one performance at Luther March 3

Feb. 17, 2010

Upstart Crow Theatreworks will present the premier of “Lessons from Cancer College,” a one-woman play by Nancy K. Barry, Luther professor of English, Feb. 19-28 at ArtHaus, 508 W. Water St., Decorah.

Directed by Eva Barr and performed by Kristen Underwood, the play will be presented Feb. 19, 20, 26 and 27 at 8 p.m., and Feb. 21 and 28 at 7 p.m.  Doors open 20 minutes before curtain time.

There will be one performance at Luther College on Wednesday, March 3, 7 p.m. in the Center for Faith and Life recital hall.

Following the Sunday, Feb. 21 and Friday, Feb. 26 performances, audience members are invited to stay for a conversation with the playwright and performer.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students.  Ticket reservations are recommended and can be made by telephone (563) 382-5440 or on-line at arthausdecorah.org.

“Lessons from Cancer College” is an original adaptation of Barry’s memoir. 

When a seasoned college professor is diagnosed with breast cancer, she assumes it will be a manageable task to continue teaching through treatment.  The plays deals with the questions and anxieties that emerge when the teacher becomes a student—of a disease, of a battery of treatments, and of her own changing body. 

She’s surprised, and ultimately healed, by the revelation that while she thought she was teaching through cancer, somehow cancer had been teaching through her.

“I hope the play will resonate both with breast cancer survivors and anyone who has experienced a major health trauma,” said Barry.  “For every cancer patient there’s a different cancer story—I hope this story shows ‘surviving’ at its best, and provides an entertaining and cathartic experience that helps the audience understand the experience whether or not they’ve been through it.”

Based on their experiences with the memoir and theatre production, Underwood and Barry will present at an April 30 conference at the University of Iowa’s College of Medicine called “The Examined Life:  Writing and the Art of Medicine.”

Barry is a teacher, published author and breast cancer survivor. She holds a doctoral degree in English and since 1990 has taught at Luther College, where she also serves as assistant to the dean for writing and academic support and college writing director. Barry is a continuing faculty member for the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival.

Kristen Underwood, who will perform the play, is the founding director of Upstart Crow Theatreworks, and co-director of ArtHaus.  She holds the master of fine arts degree in acting from the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and brings 25 years experience as a theatre professional to the project. 

The play is directed by Eva Barr, a founding ensemble member of Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago and director of Flourish Summer Camp for the Performing Arts.

Funds for the development of the project were awarded to Barry by the Iowa Arts Council.  The production of the play is made possible in part by the generous support of David and Kirsten Heine and the Family Care Clinic.

Nancy Barry