Come with BIST to see Brain Storm: a Toronto Fringe play about brain injury, a psychic medium and Dr. Wilder Penfield

BY: MERI PERRA

If you’re of a certain age and lived in Canada, you likely remember this classic Heritage Minute featuring neurosurgeon Dr. Wilder Penfield:

Taliesin McEnaney remembers the commercial well. A theatre professional with over 16 years acting, writing, producing and directing experience, McEnaney’s family tree includes a spirit channeling grandmother, Claire Ward. One of the spirits Ward channelled was Dr. Penfield. (For the record, Ward’s relationship with the deceased Penfield began in 1980, well before the line ‘I smell burnt toast’ became Heritage Minute famous in 1991.)

Also, McEnaney has a family member who lives with brain injury.

“I was researching epilepsy and seizures and Dr. Wilder Penfield was coming up quite a bit,” McEnaney said. “I was remembering he was [one of] my granny’s spirit guides. So I asked my aunt for all her writings and there are like 200 pages of typed up transcripts.”

A still from the play Brain Storm, a woman in an old fashioned surgeon's uniform pulls off her gloves

After pouring through her grandmother’s notes, researching Dr. Penfield’s work and spending a year collaborating with four actors, McEnaney’s play, Brain Storm, about a woman trying to navigate through her new reality of living with brain injury, hit the Toronto Fringe Festival this week, and runs until July 15th.

(BIST Members can see Brain Storm for FREE on July 13th, and after join McEnaney to discuss the play. You must register in advance, HERE.)

“One of the ways [the main character, Kate] tries to [come to terms with her brain injury] is she turns to her grandmother, who is dead and had previously been a medium,” McEnaney said. “One of the messages she had channelled was from Dr. Wilder Penfield, and the message was that the mind goes on after death.”

Penfield’s work fascinates McEnaney because the neurosurgeon was able to change people’s reality – what they saw, smelled or heard – simply by placing electrodes on different parts of their brain. In Penfield’s book, The Mystery of the Mind: A Critical Study of Consciousness and the Human Brain Penfield theorizes that life after death is possible, if the mind can find a different source of energy. The brain, Penfield believes, is what fuels the mind.

From what McEnaney has experienced through her family member, this is similar to some of the effects of brain injury. A person’s injured brain may be unable to filter sounds and images, creating an intensity which is often overwhelming, leading to the question of what is reality and what is not.

“Without brain injury, we’re moving through the world not hearing so many things, not seeing so many things because the brain is filtering so we can focus,” McEnaney said. “When you are brain injured, everything is coming in at once and you’re becoming overstimulated because the reality is so intense. It’s like, ok whose reality is it?”

A woman in old fashioned surgeon's gear looks at the camera

For McEnaney, it’s not important whether her grandmother really channelled spirits. (Though Ward’s notes on Dr. Penfield mimic his writings, which Ward had never read before she began channelling him.) But what is important is that her play opens up a conversation in the brain injury community.

“Every brain injury is different, and so is the one that you see in the show, but I think there are some commonalities that people will recognize,” McEnaney said.

Register HERE to see Brain Storm on July 13th with BIST!

If you can’t come with BIST on July 13th, you can buy tickets for Brain Storm HERE.

 

BRAIN STORM is co-created and performed by Hayley Carr, Maïza Dubhé, Shayna Virginillo, and Alexandra Montagnese. Conceived of and directed by Taliesin McEnaney, set and costume designed by Will Bezek with lighting design by Claire Hill.

 Thanks to our Event Sponsor

bist-1.ca-Platinum-Sponsor

IMAGES COURTESY OF LUCID LUDIC

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Q + A with the director of The Brain’s Way of Healing

Tonight on CBC’s The Nature of Things, everyone’s favourite neuroplasticity expert and author of The Brain’s Way of Healing ItselfDr. Norman Doidge, will take us on a visual exploration of his work in a documentary, The Brain’s Way of Healing.

doidgepix
PHOTO COURTESY OF CBC THE NATURE OF THINGS

BIST had the chance to interview the documentary’s director-writer, Andrew Gregg of 90th Parallel Productions about the film:

BIST: Many of our members are very familiar with Dr. Doidge’s books, and follow his methods. What can they expect to get out of this film?

AG: I think if they’ve read The Brain’s Way of Healing they’re going to actually be able to meet the people they’ve read about in the books. I know you meet them in the books, but you get to see them and you get to see lab footage and home videos before they found whatever treatment they found that was going to help them.

You basically get to put a voice and a face to the names you’ve read about. And the doctors and scientists that are mentioned in the books you get to meet them them as well.

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SCREEN SHOT FROM THE BRAIN’S WAY OF HEALING PROMO VIA CBC

BIST: What about for people who are not familiar with Dr. Doidge’s work?

AG: I think it’s a universal idea that there’s always a chance that ‘something’s going to go wrong’ and you’re going to find out from a doctor or a scientist that’s going to say, ‘Sorry there’s nothing we can do for you.’

That was the same for every single person we met in this story, [they were told], ‘nothing can be done for you.’

What these stories show is that it’s not the case anymore. By using the brain’s own plasticity there are new ways of healing that we never thought possible.

Hopelessness actually can be turned into hope pretty quickly and I think for all these people to be able to find a way to deal with whatever affliction that was presented to them, you can just see in their faces and in their stories these amazing, grateful feelings of how fortunate they are.

BIST: How accessible are the treatments portrayed in the documentary?

AG: I think that I would take that question back one step further and put myself in the situation of these people that had to seek out the treatments themselves. The people in the film really had to work hard and a lot of them benefited from Dr. Doidge’s previous book, [The Brain that Changes Itself].

I think that by showing their stories it helps the next set of people who are looking for help, it helps narrow down the search.

I think [Dr. Doidge’s] book and this film, for anyone who is looking of answers it’s going to make it that much easier.

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SCREEN SHOT FROM THE BRAIN’S WAY OF HEALING PROMO VIA CBC

BIST:  What, for you, was the biggest thing you took away from working with Dr. Doidge?

AG: The idea of going from hopelessness to hope was so prevalent in the film. Some of these things happen so quickly, like with Jeri and Cathie, who participated in the study at the University of Wisconsin.

They had both suffered a traumatic  brain injury in a car accident and were basically laid up for five years, and thought that was the going to be the rest of their lives. They got themselves got up from Champaign, Illinois for the first treatment and all of a sudden they were standing and walking.

There are these instance of switches being flipped. … [Its’] proof of neuroplasticity, that the brain is there and it is able to be valuable, it just needs the right signals.

That is amazing to me. It’s nice to have a feel good story for a change.

TO VIEW SAMPLE FOOTAGE FROM THE DOCUMENTARY, CLICK HERE 

TO VIEW THE FILM’S PROMO, CLICK HERE

The Brain’s Way of Healing airs tonight on CBC at 8 pm EST – and can be streamed (IN CANADA ONLY) online HERE.

BIST review: Tracy Morgan on Saturday Night Live

People are wondering, ‘Can he speak? Does he have 100 per cent mental capacity?’ The truth is, I never did. I might even be a few points higher.

Tracy Morgan on Saturday Night Live stage
PHOTO: NBC

 BY: COIRE LANGHAM

The things we find humorous are inconsistent and strange. Perhaps this is no better illustrated then by Tracy Morgan’s opening joke as he took to the Saturday Night Live (SNL) stage last weekend.

In his anticipated return to the SNL show just over a year since a near fatal car crash left him with a traumatic brain injury, Morgan’s opening monologue started off by looking as though he lost his speech. (Is it less funny when we find a person acting like they have ‘half-a-brain’ because they actually have a brain injury? Where as before, it was funny to see a ‘full-brained’ person act like they have ‘half-a-brain?’ A curious riddle.)

Morgan truncated that bit shortly and moved on to gratitude – a very warm thank you to his comedy family of 30 Rock co-stars Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski and Jack McBrayer, and nodding towards the gravity of the car crash that nearly took his life.

In his past work, a pleasure of Morgan was the randomness of his person. He would be so still  in the scene then issue forth with comic random hilarity, often times playing the simpleton who triumphs in the end.

Last Saturday, we saw Morgan doing some of his established characters that helped him reach his fame, including Brian Fellow and Astronaut Jones. In some numbers his eyes were reeling to keep up and we wonder if he seems to grasp just the coattail of the scene.

Yet in other numbers he sinks so deeply into character he all but disappears and delights us in his transformation. In the Safari Planet sketch, an un-cooperative camel took up the whole camera view, only to be taken off smoothly by Morgan in Brian Fellow character – hats off to him for cognitive flexibility!

Perhaps Morgan has gotten a peak from the front row seats of his own personal apocalypse, as so many brain injury survivors have. But the unraveling of our person, and the memory of that view is nursed and subdued with laughter. Humour is the nursemaid of terror, and it is heartening to see people who call in our laughs benefit from the same medicine.

This is not about whether Morgan has recovered or not. Many us living with brain  injury know recovery is never judged by one thing, and the success we had before may not be the same ones in store for us tomorrow. It is the effort to continue reaching for what we desire and working with what we have.

Tracy Morgan impressed and pleased me, working and striving to reach what he has reached. He stood up there with his quintessential Tracey Morgan style comedy and made me laugh. The ratings that night went through the roof. More importantly, he cracked me up.


Coire Langham had brain surgery just over a year ago. On his good days he remembers that a new world is out there to explore. On his really good days, he forgets the world entirely and plays make believe with his three-year-old daughter outside in the sun.