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Heartfelt Stories From Healthcare Providers Bring Audiences ‘Together Again’

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Woman holds both hands up while speaking into mic
Christina Lee speaks at The Nocturnists event at YBCA in 2020. (Kathleen Scheffer)

We’re living through an intense period of suffering. Among other crises, we’re dealing with gun and traffic violence, the anticipated imminent removal of abortion access, and, of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As these catastrophes impact patients and survivors, violence and suffering also take a remarkable toll on healthcare providers and medical professionals. Physicians are, after all, just as human as folks in other professions, and even more front-line exposed to the effects of various disasters.

It’s in this moment of desperately needed support and catharsis that The Nocturnists, the Bay Area’s six-year-old storytelling series, by and for healthcare workers, is returning to the stage. Specifically, the first in-person event in over two years will take place at the Brava Theater stage in San Francisco on Friday, June 10. The night’s theme is fitting: “Together Again.”

Representing a diversity of healthcare disciplines and locations across the country, the event’s storytellers include artistically minded med students, a pediatric urgent care physician, and a hospice doc who is also studying for a master’s in divinity with a focus on peacemaking. Oakland composer and concert pianist Motoko Honda will perform original music.

Woman in blue suit stands at mic in front of band
Emily Silverman, creator and host of The Nocturnists at YBCA in 2020. (Kathleen Scheffer)

“After two years of isolation, we were craving an in-person experience,” explains Dr. Emily Silverman, an internal medicine physician and the founder of The Nocturnists. “We believe this gathering will be extra powerful, considering the trauma we’ve endured as healthcare workers, and the loneliness associated with that. Often the most potent forms of healing are communal.”

Silverman founded the storytelling series in 2016 during her third year as a med school resident at UCSF. She wanted to cultivate a restorative space for medical practitioners and others in the healthcare community coping with high levels of stress and burnout. What started with 40 people assembled in someone’s living room, with just a few cajoled into sharing their stories, has grown to a formal but still-intimate series of events with audiences in the hundreds. Today, healthcare professionals actively seek to be involved.

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Before each event, The Nocturnists team coaches a storyteller through their narrative’s joys and difficulties. The exercise yields stronger performances, and offers therapeutic value to participants. “The story development journey, if you can let go of expectations and really surrender to the art itself, often results in beautiful and unexpected discoveries,” Silverman explains. “I wish every clinician could experience that.”

View of crowd and band on stage with "The Nocturnists" projected behind
The crowd and stage at a 2020 event at YBCA. (Kathleen Scheffer)

Even before COVID-19 forced The Nocturnists’ team to focus primarily on podcasting, the storytelling organization had evolved beyond live shows. In the past two years, the organization’s rich back catalog has expanded further to include two dynamic new audio diary series—one about the early months of the pandemic and the other featuring Black voices in healthcare. Silverman hosts a podcast interview series with medical authors such as cancer biologist and poet Jenny Qi and Dr. Elinor Cleghorn, author of Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World. Another audio documentary series, about shame in medicine, is slated to debut in the fall of 2022. And a few of the stories performed during “Together Again” will be featured in 2023 on the fifth season of The Nocturnists podcast.

Throughout these projects, the heart of The Nocturnists remains constant. It’s about the deeply human and humanizing experiences that healthcare workers all share at some point: unexpected connections with patients, the humility of hard decisions, and sometimes, the fortuitousness of beating the odds.

Like other shows held at the Brava this season, “Together Again” will follow strict safety protocols. Well-fitting masks are required, as is proof of vaccination and a booster shot, if eligible.

“The last live show feels like it was ages ago,” adds Dr. Silverman. “It’ll be great to tap back into the aliveness of performance.”

The Nocturnists’ ‘Together Again’ takes place Friday, June 10 at the Brava Theater (2781 24th St., San Francisco). Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show begins at 7pm. Ticket prices range from $20 to $50. Details here.

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