Reflections on GP the Musical’s trip to Darwin (for GP13)

The 8th performance of GP the Musical – the show written, directed and acted by GPs – was up in Darwin this month, as part of the GP13 conference.

Cast pre-show photo Darwin 17th October 2013

Cast pre-show photo Darwin 17th October 2013

Still buzzing from our unexpectedly sold out season at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April, the cast members were all eager to don their costumes and dance up a storm, despite the Darwin heat.  While high on enthusiasm, we were a little rustier than anticipated and had only a very limited time to rehearse. No doubt this was quite stressful for director Dr Katrina Anderson, but she soon whipped us into some semblance of shape using her indomitable directing skills.

Receptionist song at GPTM Darwin

Receptionist song at GPTM Darwin

It is both daunting and comforting to perform in front of colleagues. We expected a very supportive and forgiving crowd (and they were!) but knowing there were some serious heavyweights in the crowd (the likes of RACGP president, Dr Liz Marles, Chair of Council, Dr Eleanor Chew and the legendary Professor John Murtagh) did produce a few butterflies. We weren’t sure whether these VIPs would appreciate us sending up everything from E-health records to naturopathy to heartsink patients, but our college memberships were not rescinded the next day, so they must have taken the show in the tongue-in-cheek manner intended.

Professor John Murtagh was particularly effusive with his praise of the show. He told us how he had tried to get tickets when GP the Musical was at the Comedy Festival, but was turned away by the box office due to the show being sold out.  I’m sure he was too humble and polite to do the whole “Do you have any idea who I am?” routine, but we kind of wish he had!

WONCA president Professor Michael Kidd gave us a personal apology for not being able to attend the Darwin performance (he was flying out to India that evening).  He had seen the show in Melbourne but said he had wanted to see it “one more time”.

Enough of the name dropping!

We had many non-India-bound audience members who had chosen to “come back again” for a second or third viewing.  Those who had last seen it at the 2012 GPET Convention, experienced not only a more practised performance but 20 minutes of extra dialogue and two new songs (E-health records and Naturopath Song).

Mr Black and Dr Karla

Mr Black and Dr Karla

There were some changes since the Melbourne International Comedy Festival season too.  There were dialogue tweaks (deliberate ones, mostly ;-)) and a cast re-shuffling:  a previous patient became the female doctor and the doctor accepted a job promotion to become the receptionist.    Dr John Buckley returned as the unstoppable Mr Goodall.

The other change was that the show jumped on the social media bandwagon and had a live twitter stream:  #GPTM.  Photos and comments were posted during the show by both audience members and the show’s multi-tasking receptionist character (while on stage).  OK, I’ll stop hiding behind the 3rd person.  The crazy receptionist was me.   I’d obviously overlooked the fact that playing a new role for the first time with very little rehearsal would probably need my full attention.  At some point, I must have subconsciously  decided that acting, singing, dancing and playing live music in front of a large audience of colleagues, invited guests and VIPs was not enough of a challenge, and so added live tweeting into the mix.  Miraculously I managed to post numerous tweets using the prop conveniently placed on the desk at which I was sitting for much of the show (aka laptop) without missing cues or lines.   More good luck than good management, in retrospect. You can check out the tweets at #GPTM if you’re curious.

All in all, it was a tremendously enjoyable night (for the cast at least).

Encore performance at Rural Faculty Function

Encore performance at Rural Faculty Function

Wanting a little more of the  Darwin limelight, we came back “one more time” and did an encore performance of our final song, The one to see is your GP, the following evening at the RACGP Rural Faculty Function.  It wasn’t scheduled and we weren’t invited as such – we snuck onto stage while the star act of the evening, the very talented and entertaining GP band, the Medical Cheekydocs, took a five minute loo break.

We have the band to thank not only for a wonderful night’s music and for graciously allowing us to monopolise the stage for a few minutes, but for the existence of the musical at all.  For it was back in 2010, while the band (then called Simon and the GPETtes) were rehearsing on a station outside Alice Springs for the 2010 GPET Convention, that the idea of GP the Musical was first dreamed up by Gerard Ingham and myself (both then band members). We started writing the show a couple of months later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

We couldn’t have done any of it without our director and fabulous cast, so thank you all!

There are no future GP the Musical  shows scheduled at present, but who knows?  We may just “come back again” next year to a theatre near you.

Post show drinks

Post show drinks

Mr Goodall getting cuddly with Mr Black

Mr Goodall getting cuddly with Mr Black

Theatrics can be Therapeutic

Some patients are hard to train. As are certain colleagues. Either (or both) can make our already difficult jobs all the more stressful.

The well-adjusted, Zen-like doctors will let such annoyances wash over them like a limpid mountain stream and switch them off like a tap the moment they walk out the door.

The less compartmentalised of us need other strategies to avoid finding ourselves tossing and turning in bed, fantasising about a career change.

The traditional GP stress-buster is, of course, red wine, but fewer of us imbibe regularly these days (or at least admit to it) and we instead espouse remedies such as being yelled at by sadistic personal trainers at 5am daily.

Not being a saint, drinker nor masochist, I have been known to try writing my way to a peaceful night’s sleep. Most of my frustration-driven rants are not fit for human consumption, but occasionally I’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone by using my debriefing material in a column, story or theatre piece.

This is how ‘Mrs Ryan’ ended up on stage. The character was based on one of my seemingly untrainable, frequent attendees whose ‘poor me’ attitude and long, long list of problems each consultation had driven me to the pen. ‘Mrs Ryan’ subsequently became a major character in a day-in-the-life-of-a-GP play called Walk a Mile in my Shoes that I was lucky enough to have performed in 2011.

It was most therapeutic for me to see a comically exaggerated and fictionalised version of my patient on stage, her essence perfectly captured by a talented actor.

Each time I watched her strut her stuff in rehearsal, the antipathy I felt towards my patient ebbed further and further away.

But then, on opening night, the real ‘Mrs Ryan’ unexpectedly turned up in the audience.

I panicked. For the two-hour duration of the show I waited in trepidation, inwardly cringing each time the audience laughed at the unreasonable behaviour of the play’s most irritating character.

Post-performance, my ‘Mrs Ryan’ made a beeline for me and gushed, with a completely straight face: “That was wonderful. I loved it! That Mrs Ryan character was a piece of work, though. How do you doctors ever put up with such people?”

Despite failing to recognise herself, ‘Mrs Ryan’ changed her approach to consultations. Her lists now rarely exceed three items and she’s mindful of time constraints.

When I positively reinforced her behaviour change, she replied: “Your play helped me see how stressful your job is. I’d never thought of doctors as people with their own problems before.”

She went on: “I’d love you to put me into a story or play one day. I have enough problems to fill up a whole book!”

It turns out the theatrics were as therapeutic for her as they were for me.

“Mrs Ryan” and I have since had a good laugh over the incident and she gave permission (and her blessing) for me to write this column.

The good news is that you don’t need to be a writer to effect behavioural change in those patients and colleagues who make your life hell. Sending them to the theatre could be enough. Walk a Mile in my Shoes has hung up its boots for the moment, but there are plenty of colourful characters in GP the Musical, which may well do the trick.

Coming along yourself may prove therapeutic too – giving you an opportunity to laugh off your workday stresses, with or without the assistance of red wine.

Since this column was first published, GP the Musical has enjoyed a sell-out season at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April 2013 and performed at the GP13 conference in Darwin for GP13.  It features an all-GP cast.

First published in Australian Doctor on 15th March, 2013: On theatrical stress-busting

The Last Word on GP Matchmaking

First published in Australian Doctor on 28th September, 2012: On GP Matchmaking

The Last Word on GP Matchmaking

by Genevieve Yates

When a playwright friend heard I was writing a musical about general practice, his first comment was: “It must include a love story — audiences expect romance!”

At the time I pooh-poohed the idea, thinking that medicine and love don’t sit well together, even in musical theatre. I certainly wasn’t prepared to write a stage musical version of Grey’s Anatomy with a Dr McDreamy GP character making use of the examination couch after hours.

However, as GP the Musical came to life, my co-writer, Dr Gerard Ingham, and I discovered we had indeed written a love story — about doctors and patients. Not the kind of love story that will have AHPRA knocking at the door, mind you, but one about matchmaking patients and GPs.

In Act 1, Dr White, a whiz at dermatology and care plans, is happy to treat Rebecca’s rash, but not so eager to address her psychological distress.

Dr White: “I see here that you are on antidepressant tablets ¬ Wow, that’s a high dose. Look, counselling isn’t my thing. We all have things we are good at. For example, I’m good at cycling and running but rubbish at swimming. So I do better at triathlon if I team up with a good swimmer. Play as a team, win as a team. Do you know what I mean?”

Rebecca: “Not a clue.”

Dr White: “Well, you see although we’re both GPs, Dr Anderson is better at the psychological and women’s stuff — the tears and smears. So I think it’s best if you come back later this week and see Dr Anderson to talk about your sad feelings.”

Meanwhile, Dr Anderson is struggling with Mr Black, an ex-accountant who loves nothing more than creating Excel spreadsheets documenting his bodily functions, and whose thinking is as concrete as his bowel motions.

Dr Anderson: “Mr Black, what’s really going on?”

Mr Black: “Pardon?”

Dr Anderson: “What’s bothering you, deep down?”

Mr Black: “My bowels aren’t working properly, that’s what’s bothering me.”

Dr Anderson: “I’m not talking about your bowels, I’m talking about your feelings. Are you unhappy?”

Mr Black: “I’m unhappy when I can’t pass my motions, obviously.”

The exchange continues:

Dr Anderson: “Mr Black, you come and see me nearly every week with your bodily function charts. You want me to prescribe you pills but you’re terrified of side effects. I think there are other issues going on.”

Mr Black: “Of course there are other issues. Haven’t you been listening? There are my blood pressure variations, my dizziness, my low blood sugars after meals ¬”

In Act 2, the patients swap doctors. Mr Black is introduced to the Bristol Stool Chart and gets his thrice-daily home BP readings uploaded into his medical record by Dr White. He thinks this is “maaarvelous!” Rebecca finally finds her doctor match in Dr Anderson — someone who’ll explore why she’s scratching herself incessantly and who listens to what she has to say. Both love stories resolve happily.

In true musical theatre style, the storyline is simplistic and the characters are stereotypical, but it seems to have hit the mark with doctors and non-doctors alike. Judging from the standing ovation received at GP the Musical‘s premiere in Melbourne earlier this month, it seems audiences really do love a love story — albeit one involving the improved documentation of stool consistency!

(Since this column was first published, GP the Musical has enjoyed a sell-out season at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April 2013 and is heading to Darwin for GP13 on October 17)