Musician Barre Guillen and improv comic Alex Peckham shared how they worked with Renown patients and caregivers as part of the annual Artists in Residence class at UNR Med.
Two University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine students used their own artistic work to not only showcase their talents but also bring a sense of community to others. Musician Barre Guillen and improvisational actor Alex Peckham were celebrated as part of the annual UNR Med Artists In Residence Show and Reception at Renown Regional Medical Center on May 18.
Guillen and Peckham both took the annual Artists in Residence elective course at UNR Med. During the show, Guillen shared his experiences of leading singalongs with patients at Renown Regional, a style of performance he tried out with his musician friends while in medical school in Boston. Guillen, who grew up in Fallon, Nev. and was also a working musician for many years around the country, just wrapped up his medical degree in general surgery and will be launching a residency in Visalia, Calif.
Guillen played for longer-term patients during weekends as part of Renown’s Healing Arts Program. “There were probably six patients there each time and we would just sit around in a circle,” Guillen says. “I just brought in cover songs, classic songs that most people know, and we’d sing them all together.”
Guillen said that singalongs are “a great way to bring people together and make music about everybody, not just who is playing the instrument. It felt like you were giving someone a special experience, and it was a very cathartic experience all around.”
Guillen hopes to continue volunteer his time to play music for healing, and he has a plan beyond that as well. “I may not have time to play much music myself, but maybe I could start a program where young musicians could get connected to hospitals and the healing environment. They could discover the beauty and importance of bringing art to patients, especially those who have been in the hospital a long time and might feel disconnected from friends and family. It’s a special thing to be part of.”
As part of his performance at Renown Regional, Guillen led the audience in a singalong of one of his classic selections, “Lean on Me,” the Bill Withers ‘70s tune about being there for your friends. Peckham also had audience volunteers perform with him, but in a different fashion. He had four people tell a story one word at a time in an improvisational exercise (short story short: it was about a ski bum who fell down a mountain).
It was an example of how Peckham led several groups of caregivers at UNR Med and Renown in similar exercises to display teamwork. His own journey to discovering this method shows the evolution of his own art and interests as a medical student. When he turned 21, Peckham went to a comedy open-mic competition and won first place.
“Once I started doing more stand-up, I took an improv class and ended up liking it more than stand-up,” Peckham says. “Once I got into medical school, I got into a bind where I could either write jokes for stand-up or study, so I went with studying. With improv, you just make it up on the spot. You still have to put some time into it, but you can just let your brain do its thing.”
Peckham , who has lived in northern Nevada since 2002, eventually joined the Reno Improv Group, which performs weekly, and he intends to keep doing that while he goes through his fifth year as a psychiatry student.
For his Artist in Residence project, he led hospitalists, internal medicine residents and UNR Med administrative staff on several improv exercises, including one where the group has to plan a party together, but at various times can only speak in sentences that start with “No, but,” “Yes, but” or “Yes, and.” The first two end up in creating no consensus or teamwork, while that last one opens the dialog up considerably (and often hilariously).
“I could see this exercise reflected in medicine,” Peckham said. “It’s amazing how you can grow by working with a patient or a provider who has that “yes, and” mentality. I think it reflected and merged the two improv and medicine worlds together.”