by Cherie Sampson
In 2017, when I posted on social media a photo series of my naked body, hairless from chemotherapy in a beautiful apple orchard during the spring bloom, a friend and ovarian cancer survivor commented, “Every. Single. One. Of us who has been with this disease is validated, loved and to a certain extent, freed by this image.”
This statement became the title for every.single.one, an autobiographical performance that depicts my personal, familial and others’ experiences with hereditary cancer while simultaneously exploring genetics, conventional and integrative oncology, and healing from the patient’s perspective. The project draws from ethnographic research, lived experience, field notes, interviews, and data that together create a dramatic interpretation.
A series of interviews with BRCA gene mutation carriers—previvors and survivors of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer—were conducted to inform this project and convey multiple voices and perspectives on our shared stories.* My sister’s story is also an integral part of the piece as she began her third treatment for BCRA-related breast cancer while I was diagnosed and being treated.
The performance will be set on stage, incorporating documentary-style video, soundscapes and imagery collected while undergoing treatment. The media environment will be integrated with other means of storytelling—the spoken word with expressive physical theater and dance.
While the play was initially conceived as a solo performance, it has evolved into something more and is likely to become an ensemble work. The creative work during and after treatment has provided a profound opportunity for me to process the life-altering experience. In the words of black feminist warrior poet Audre Lorde, “examine it, put it into perspective, share it and make use of it.”
every.single.one has been presented in various phases of its development over the past four years. The first 15 minutes of the piece was performed for a live audience in the fall of 2019 at the University of Missouri Theater Department’s 17th Annual Life & Literature Series. In December 2021, a Zoom theatrical reading of the play was independently organized by me and the play’s dramaturg, Dr. Xiomara Cornejo. In that reading, actor Cheryl Black (Columbia, MO) read my role and Lisa Wigoda (Quincy, IL) read the role of my sister Kris. On February 10, 2022, another live theatrical reading of every.single.one in its entirety took place on Zoom as part of the Mizzou “New Play Series” directed by University of Missouri Theater Department playwright Dr. David Crespy. In this recent reading, I had the opportunity to play my role. Several short films/videos associated with the play have also been presented in art exhibitions and screened internationally in film/video festivals, receiving several first-place awards.
The many components of the play’s production will continue to evolve over the next year or so. Please reach out with questions or to express interest in a presentation of the piece in your community—either excerpts, readings or later in its full-staged production. Several excerpts/scenes from the onstage performance and readings can be found in the video links below.
*Most of the interviews were conducted with individuals involved with FORCE. Names have been changed. Many thanks to Diane Rose and Sandy Cohen for their assistance with finding interviewees.
Cherie Sampson, MFA, is a visual and performance artist and Professor of Art in the School of Visual Studies at the University of Missouri. She has been exhibiting her work and presenting live performances internationally for over 25 years. Cherie is a member of the FORCE volunteer team and the Patient Advocacy Committee in the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO.) [email protected]
Artist website about “every.single.one” project.