His character’s coup de theatre comes when Republicano participates in a training session for psychiatric nurses. “I go in as John but I’m crazed,” he begins, warming to the scenario that unfolds. “I’m just coming down off a weekend bender. I went out for milk at 1:00 am, didn’t come back until 4:00 am and I’m cracked out. My wife says, ‘If you don’t go and check yourself in, I’ll leave you.’ So, I’m alone in this hospital conference room and very agitated. The first time I did it I thought I was laying it on a little thick, but the instructor was like, ‘You can amp it up! Really be Breaking Bad.”
A Standardized Patient (actor) and a medical student.
rectly or miss an emotional cue that we’ve asked the standardized patient to portray, it’s an opportunity for teaching” Dr. Reisman says. “Then we can say, ‘Try it again. And try incorporating a question about the expression on that patient’s face.” She notes that at some other medical schools the actors are encouraged to add their feedback by filling out a checklist with aspects of the medical history or symptoms that should have been explored. The actors involved in Yale’s program are usually drawn from the local area. The hope is that once they’re trained that the participants will stick with it for a while to cut down on the need to recruit new actors for the program. Most have community theater credits or are simply people that are interested in helping the school out. A few, however, like Repulicano, come with professional resumes. In fact, when Reublicano first heard about the program from a fellow actor who’d been a past participant, he approached applying for the job as he would an audition. “I sent a letter of interest with my headshot, professional and theatrical resumes,” he recalls. “Anna called me in for an interview. She ran a few scenarios by me and I worked them with her. It was kind of an audition / interview. I think my experience in improv played a big role.” Republicano believes that “typecasting” also contributed to his getting hired. “When I do background work (aka extra work) in movies or on
television I always get cast as blue collar: a policeman or security guard,” he explains. “I think they wanted a cross section of the population. They had a young woman who plays a teenager, a few older gentlemen and ladies – I’m the blue collar guy.” The next step was for Dr. Reisman to create a character for Republicano to inhabit. Both a practicing physician and a published writer, the doctors says that she enjoys combining those two worlds in the social histories that she concocts. The actors are provided with several paragraphs that detail a specific standardized patient’s background – where they grew up, went to school, who they live with, etc… Then, for each of the teaching exercises that they take part in, Dr. Reisman indicates the kind of emotion that she would like them to express, along with any symptoms they’re supposed to simulate. The final step in their preparation is collaborative: when the actors are encouraged to take the information that they’ve been given and flesh out their characters by drawing on their own backgrounds. “That’s the most fun part,” says Dr. Reisman. “It comes alive when I rehearse with them. It’s a process that takes advantage of what the actors bring to it: their own experience.” For Tony Repulicano, Dr. Reisman invented the character of John – a working stiff on a downward spiral that would make the star of a daytime drama envious. “When you first see John he’s a salesman who’s married, has two boys and comes from a very religious family,” Repulicano
notes. “He and his wife aren’t getting along, but nothing bad has happened yet. Back in college he had a homosexual experience. But, because of his religious background he pushed those feelings aside and wound up getting married. Later on when we meet John for another program, he’s started meeting men online while he’s away on business trips. At another point he’s doing drugs and gets hooked on crystal meth.” His character’s coup de theatre comes when Republicano participates in a training session for psychiatric nurses. “I go in as John but I’m crazed,” he begins, warming to the scenario that unfolds. “I’m just coming down off a weekend bender. I went out for milk at 1:00 am, didn’t come back until 4:00 am and I’m cracked out. My wife says, ‘If you don’t go and check yourself in, I’ll leave you.’ So, I’m alone in this hospital conference room and very agitated. The first time I did it I thought I was laying it on a little thick, but the instructor was like, ‘You can amp it up! Really be Breaking Bad.” “So, the second time I took dry erase markers and wrote on the white board ‘I don’t belong here! WTF,” Republicano continues. “I had every single chairs in the conference room spinning. I’m pinching my skin, the mood swings are up and down and I’m paranoid. These poor nurses came in and were trying to get a history from me and I’m pretending I see my wife down the hall, getting into their faces yelling, ‘She sent me here!’ I had a lot of fun with it!” Republican points out, however, that his efforts at chewing the scenery are often undercut by the expertise of Yale’s students. One example was an exercise in which he was a patient who had to be told that he’d taken a turn for the worse while under the care of the hospital. “As actors we like drama,” he emphasizes. “So, I went in there with all guns blazing! But, they disarmed me and I ended up saying thank you to them for handling it so well!” “The actors really like the difficult news sessions because they get to express extremes of emotion,” Dr. Reisman says. “Last year I created a couple of scripts for residents, rather than medical students, that focused on care of HIV patients. I wrote these really difficult, complicated patients. The two actors loved them being able to flex their acting muscles.” So, in the end it’s not just the paycheck that keeps Tony Republicano coming back to work with the students at the Yale School of Medicine. “I enjoy doing it because I really get a chance to act,” he says. “When I improvise, it’s usually comedy. So, it’s nice to have a heavier role – one that I feel like I helped to create. And it’s helpful to the doctors. It’s helpful to patients. And it’s nice to be able to sink you teeth into a character like John. He’s certainly got his highs and lows!”
Published on Aug 20, 2014
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