‘Dear Vaccine’ Enjoys Stage Debut at National Academy of Sciences

The debut performance of “What We Learned While Alone: Global Voices Speak to the Pandemic’’ took place in the auditorium of the National Academy of Science in Washington, D.C., on Monday night. 

J.D. Talasek, director of National Academy of Sciences, welcomes the audience to the performance.

The stage production is a continuation of “Dear Vaccine,” the interactive Global Vaccine Poem that was launched by Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center and the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center to promote the COVID-19 vaccine through art. 

The original poetry project met with immense success, with submissions from all 50 U.S. states and more than 100 countries across the globe. David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center; Tyler Meier, director of Arizona’s Poetry Center; and nationally renowned poet Naomi Shihab Nye, whose own poem kicked off "Dear Vaccine," then edited the 2,000 submissions into the book “Dear Vaccine: Global Voices Speak to the Pandemic,” released in April by The Kent State University Press.  

David Hassler, director of Kent State's Wick Poetry Center, is shown at a reception welcoming guests to the performance.

Media coverage of the book led to an invitation for the stage performance at the National Academy of Science. 

Hassler created a draft of the script and then enlisted the help of Cleveland theater professional Eric Schmiedel, ’89, to serve as director of the production. Actors Calil “Just C.O.S.” Cage, a 2021 Kent State graduate; Bryce Evan Lewi and Tiffany Trapnell completed the cast, with Ambre Emory-Maier, Kent State associate professor of dance, serving as the show’s movement director, and stage management by Dan Telford. 

Hassler constructed the performance around four main themes: we love, we grieve, we praise and we hope. Each section included movement, music and poetry, followed by audience participation in which members used their cellphones to contribute to the creation of new poetry. The show ended with a community poem created in real time. The show also featured a special appearance via video by Shihab Nye. 

Kent State Provost Melody Tankersley welcomes the audience during a reception in the Great Hall of the National Academy of Sciences.

Monday’s premiere included a pre-performance reception, where Kent State Senior Vice President and Provost Melody Tankersley, Ph.D., and Arizona’s Provost Liesl Folks, Ph.D., both spoke. Mandy Munro-Stasiuk, Ph.D., dean of Kent State’s College of Arts and Sciences, also was in attendance. 

Many Munro-Stasiuk, dean of Kent State's College of Arts and Sciences, and Clare Stacey, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology, attended the performance.

A post-show conversation followed the performance and featured Hassler; Meier; Emory-Maier; National Endowment for the Humanities Chair Shelly Lowe; pediatrician and National Academy of Medicine member Elena Fuentes-Afflick (live on video); and Taryn Burhanna, MSN, APRN, NP-C, lecturer and clinical instructor in Kent State’s College of Nursing, who helped to organize mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics at Kent State in 2021. 

Taryn Burhanna, clinical instructor in Kent State’s College of Nursing, second from left; Ambre Emory-Maier, associate professor of Dance, second from right; and David Hassler, Wick Poetry Center director, far right, took part in a post-performance talk.

Jeffrey Hallam, Ph.D., associate dean and professor at Kent State’s College of Public Health, used the event to conduct research on vaccine confidence and mental health. Attendees were surveyed before the performance on three areas: vaccine confidence, their emotional distress and social isolation, and will be surveyed after to see what influence the artistic experience had on their well-being. The research project is being conducted in conjunction with Kent State’s College of Public Health, Department of Sociology, College of Nursing, and College of Communication and Information.  

Next month, the production is expected to be offered to as many as 15,000 attendees at the American Public Health Association’s 2022 Annual Meeting in Boston.  

POSTED: Tuesday, October 25, 2022 12:39 PM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 07:03 PM
Lisa Abraham