Cancer research is done all over the world. Sometimes even in Bristol’s theatres…
Back in January, a lovely audience flooded into a temporary CRUK-funded research centre in the basement of the Polish Ex-Service Mens’ Club, otherwise known as the Bristol Improv Theatre.
There, they donned white lab coats and settled down in their teams, dubbed ‘research groups’, for the evening. Some teams had come together and others were made with quick introductions to new ‘colleagues’. Everyone was there to be part of the first Rising Ape Presents… Your Choice, a night of games and theatre based on the choices people make in cancer research.
Throughout the evening there was high stakes dice rolling and tough decisions, there were moving verbatim performances of interviews with patients, there were fluffy and colourful cancerous cells. And there were even prizes.
But before all of that the new research groups sat down at their tables, got acquainted and turned to the first order of business before starting to play the game: drawing cards and finding out who in their varied team they were and what special skills they each had.
“I’m a professor, I get double points! We get points?”
“I’m an interdisciplinary researcher, I can do research in any field. Sounds awesome.”
“I’m an undergraduate… And none of the research in my hand is worth any points? That’s not fair!”
“We might need to get your research to the professor, then”
The groups were learning fast. They were then told by the disembodied, but all knowing, Voice of Progress that their task was to travel around the game board and use their limited resources to do as much research as possible. The end goal? Maximise their science reputation points to come ahead of the other teams.
Eagerly, the groups set to their task, racing to the lab spaces on the board. Once there, they were able to splurge their grant money (in the shape of shiny gems) to draw research cards, and then cross their fingers that they could roll a high enough number to allow them to acquire the treatment or benefit on the card, along with its precious science points. Would they spend their money equally on all the possible areas? Or would they focus their efforts on New Treatments, and ignore Better Understanding of Cancer? Tough choices had to be made.
“Publication rejected? Oh no, we’ve lost ten points!”
“Discard a treatment card? What should we lose? Improved Chemotherapy, or Prevention of Side Effects?”
Smarter teams made the most of the ability to meet up on the board to trade cards. Thinking tactically and collaboratively helped these teams overcome what fate had dealt them. Using each individual’s skills for the greater good was key to success and more than one team managed to put all the blame on the Undergraduate or have the Fundraiser working hard to gain gems as fast as possible from the centre of the board.
As time to use their grants ran out, the groups moved faster and faster around the board, rolling, swapping and chatting as they went. All too soon time was up: the dice fell silent, the lights dimmed and the first monologue began.
“You’re taking all that information in, ‘I’ve got cancer. I‘ve got an aggressive form of breast cancer. And now you’re giving me options? Three weeks ago I was dancing on the tables in Benidorm!’”
Listen to the clip above to hear Research Nurse Jane talk about the moment patients find out about a clinical trial.
Jane works at Velindre Cancer Centre and her story highlighted that even when a choice to be part of a trial may be logical, people have strong personal emotions that have to be taken into account.
After Jane’s monologue the research groups broke out for drinks and discussion about their experiences of the first half. Awaiting the teams in the bar was the chance to make their very own cell, not out of DNA and proteins, but from brightly coloured wool and card.
Everyone jumped straight to it, wrapping wool around and around like their imaginary grant funding relied on it. There were a couple of different methods available, allowing for either carefully made uniform cells to form, or fast growing scrappy blobs, calling to mind a cancerous growth. An acute scissors shortage was overcome to finish them all off and they were hung up on the threads around the theatre by tags containing peoples’ thoughts on cancer research after the first half.
After sitting down for the second half, the lights dimmed again and we heard the story of Elise, a clinical trials patient taking part in research at Velindre, and her thoughts on the choices she made.
The fact that I’d have to come in and have Herceptin anyway, well it tied in with that, because I’d have to come in every three weeks, well I might as well have the trial, because I’d be here anyway.
Listen to the clip above to hear Elise explain why being part of her trial made sense for her.
After the monologue, the research groups were faced with a completely new, red-themed board. On it were the parts of the body where cancers are most often diagnosed. The Voice of Progress again boomed through the room and introduced the rules for the second half: “Move. Kill. Diagnose.” The overall aim? To use all the research and treatment cards the teams had collected in the first half to kill as many cancer cells as possible in 20 minutes.
With each move to a space the researchers could kill cancerous cells there, but with each dice roll they diagnosed more. Who could clear out cancer from whole areas of the body, and who would be overwhelmed? The teams again had to make the most of their unique abilities, ensure they had the right cards in the hands of the right professions and coordinate their movement cleverly around the board.
Some of the teams came into their own in this round, focusing fully on their task and racking up piles of red cancer cells by the roll. With just a minute to go, the activity in the room was at fever pitch, move to a space, roll to kill, roll to diagnose. A 5 second countdown echoed around the room and then the lights dimmed for the final time, coming up on the third performance of the night: Judy, a patient in a clinical trial at Velindre.
Listen to how Judy keeps her friends and family lighthearted through her clinical trial treatments.
After Judy’s story (and while the scores were totalled) the audience heard from Helen Frost, CRUK Research Engagement Manager. Her words brought home the real impact on peoples’ lives from the huge advances in cancer treatments and the central importance of clinical trials to this success. Then with the scores counted, checked, found to be wrong, and then rechecked… Finally, the first ever winners of Your Choice were announced…
To much applause, Team NRR (Not Real Researchers) were pronounced the the evening’s champions! Thanks to a dominant second round performance and a mightily impressive score of 160-odd, NRR narrowly beat their nearest rival research groups. For their efforts they picked up an entire carrier bag of prizes sourced from local CRUK shops, including snazzy branded badges and a portable version of teenage sleepover classic Twister. Understandably, they were overjoyed.
So with the winners crowned, the actors’ bows taken and an evaluation form filled in by each audience member, the night came to a close. If you were there, we hope you enjoyed it.
Looking back, our aim for this project was simple to state, more challenging to pull off: Engage the audience actively with cancer research and make sure they have a good time doing it. From the start we knew we wanted the audience to hear the real stories of people involved in clinical trials and leave with an awareness of what choices are being made everyday by the thousands of people involved in cancer research, from academic researchers to patients to nurses. We felt a team-based board game, literally built around their real words, would prove a powerful way to for the audience to connect with this subject.
Making this actually happen took four months, multiple journeys to Wales, many late night Slack updates, and countless team pow-wows at Bristol’s Watershed. But, thanks to the efforts of amazing patients, dedicated CRUK staff, the lovely Bristol Improv Theatre, some truly incredible actors, and a wonderful, enthusiastic audience, happen, it did. From our own side, we have learned a huge amount from the experience, so thank you, everyone.
What’s next? Already, there are plans taking shape to take Your Choice to new places and in new directions. We’re extremely excited about what’s happening so keep an eye out for announcements here in the not-at-all-distant future. And, in the meantime, if you have any feedback thoughts on the above, or new ideas that you’d like to tell us about, drop us a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org, we’d love to hear from you.
The Rising Ape Team