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Physician Becomes Playwright to Address Youth Violence and Mental Health

Actors in It Shouldda Been Me Photo by Victor Powell

November 2011

Doriane Miller, MD, saw herself as a physician, researcher, and community member but never a playwright … until now.

In a unique collaboration between the University of Chicago Medical Center and eta Creative Arts Foundation, Miller’s play about youth violence and depression, "It Shoudda Been Me," is now part of eta’s Showfolk Cultural Enrichment Series for Youth running through June 15.

Miller’s play comes at a time when Chicago has seen a slew of shootings among young people. From January to September, 142 young adults ages 17 to 25 were murdered, and gun violence accounted for three-quarters of those murders, according to the Chicago Police Department Crime Summary.

Miller, an associate professor of medicine and director for the Center for Community Health and Vitality, was struck by the numbers and nonchalant attitudes of her patients who had experienced this type of violence. "When I asked for information about these experiences and how my young patients felt about them, their response made it seem like a normal rite of passage," Miller said. "However, many of these young people exhibited symptoms of anxiety and depression, not unlike people exposed to war."

In "It Shoudda Been Me," 15-year-old DeShawn goes from making exceptional grades to poor grades in a matter of months after his best friend is killed in a drive-by shooting, Miller explained. The play illustrates the need to recognize signs of depression among youth and seek out options for healing.

Addressing teen depression through drama came from a brainstorming discussion developing programming for Miller’s Community Grand Rounds, community-focused dialogues meant to engage youth and adults about health and social issues affecting the South Side of Chicago.

Everyone loved the idea, Miller said, except no one knew how to write plays. Miller began researching playwriting techniques until she sat down one evening and wrote. By the early morning, she had written half the play.

After sharing the script with a few colleagues, Miller felt encouraged and finished the play, she said. Her team recruited a professional director and found a cast made of up local community members.

With funding from the Institute for Translational Medicine, "It Shoudda Been Me" debuted as the first Community Grand Rounds event in October 2010 at the Perspectives Charter School in front of about 150 community residents, youth and Medical Center faculty and staff.

Doriane Miller, MD, addresses play attendees at a question and answer session
Miller addresses attendees at the question-and-answer session after the play.

After the play, Miller led a question-and-answer session with mental health experts. Attendees stayed more than an hour after the program ended to keep asking questions about youth violence and mental health, Miller said. "I knew then that we had hit a nerve in a way that was significant and meaningful."

Performance Information and Tickets

Performances of “It Shoudda Been Me” take place from October 31, 2011 through June 15, 2012, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., at eta Creative Arts Foundation Inc., located at 7558 S. South Chicago Ave. Call (773) 752-3955 for tickets. Group ticket rates are available.