Award-Winning Actor Gives Voice to Elders at Filkin Lecture
Award-winning actor and educator Megan Cole is “genuinely excited” about the opportunity to present the Anne-Marie Filkin Lecture on Sunday, March 10, at the Society’s 2019 annual conference in Atlanta, GA. “Literature teaches us eternal truths in entertaining ways and reminds us that there is always more than one way to interpret any human experience. I look forward to sharing these beautiful truths with Society members,” she says.
She hopes that participants leave her program, “Elder Voices: How Literature Can Help Us Understand Aging,” with a renewed appreciation of how books, plays, and poetry “help us better understand the human condition,” particularly as people age and confront their mortality. In her presentation, Ms. Cole will read from select works of literature that vividly describe what it’s like to age and be elderly and discuss how they help us understand aging.
Ms. Cole has appeared in numerous television shows, movies, and stage productions. However, performing the lead role in “Wit,” a play about a woman struggling with a terminal illness, was “transformative” and led her to a new career teaching practitioners the skills necessary to be empathetic communicators.
“The thing about aging is that we never really know what it’s like until we get old. It’s important to learn from others’ experiences, but it always goes back to, ‘What would I do?’ ‘How would I behave in that situation?’” Ms. Cole says. “The most important thing I’ve learned about aging is that there’s a real person inside. People often say that they feel like they’re 25 even though they’re 90. We need to remember that they weren’t always old and frail.”
Ms. Cole encourages practitioners to watch movies and plays where actors portray someone with a serious illness. “If the performer is doing his or her work right and well, they will get the experience by proxy. They will be drawn into the situation and feel with the person. They will learn what it’s like to have that particular illness,” she says. “It offers a safe and private place to reflect.”
In her workshops, Ms. Cole shares some of her acting skills with participants, such as being aware of the context and subtext of what people are saying and doing. She helps people understand how to break events into goals, actions, and obstacles. Ultimately, she says, the course is about ways of looking beyond a patient’s condition to see the person inside. It is about finding a balance that allows the practitioner to engage with the patient without becoming personally lost. Everything she will read at the annual conference, she says, will exemplify how all of this works. She notes, “We have to learn to trust ourselves and how to balance engagement and detachment.”
The Anne-Marie Filkin Lecture is named for the late physician, a leader in the New York Medical Directors Association, a passionate patient advocate, and a widely-respected clinician.