00 / 00

Interview with Stuart Gordon, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Richard Fire and Gary Houston

BROADCAST: Jun. 21, 1982 | DURATION: 00:52:44

Synopsis

Discussing the current production "E.R" (Emergency Room) with Organic Theatre company cast members Stuart Gordon, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Richard Fire and Gary Houston.

Transcript

Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.

OK

Studs Terkel Now, one of the most imaginative theaters in Chicago for a number of years now has been the Organic Theater, and way back you know, Stuart Gordon, the founding director of it and still directing it, and his colleagues, who write as well as direct. To explain that you may recall Bleacher Bums, that was so celebrated and so funny and so accurate, a number of members of the cast, including Stuart Gordon and his wife, you might say co-author, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, and two of his colleagues, Gary Houston and Richard Fire are around the microphone now, and they're part of a play called E/R Emergency Room. Emergency room, that is so much a part of Chicago's nightlife scene, particularly in hospitals where things happen. And what they did is the story of this discussion, this roundtable we'll have. E/R, which has received very enthusiastic reviews from critics as well as audiences, been running now for 6 months at the Organic Theater. And we'll get the address in a moment. And it's- it's a cooperative project, and 4 of the creative spirits and their- their colleagues too, are round and about, and it makes terribly exciting theater, and it's part of the tradition of Organic. It's organic.

Stuart Gordon It certainly is.

Studs Terkel So in a moment my guests and E/R, after this message. [Pause in recording] Where do we begin? Stuart, when the group itself came to be, this was kind of the spirit of it, wasn't it?

Stuart Gordon To create new work, yes.

Studs Terkel New-

Stuart Gordon We're dedicated to exclusively new work.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking that some of the past works that have been- for which there was more [celebrated?], Warp, for one, Huck Finn-

Stuart Gordon Right.

Studs Terkel -for another, what is the- how would you describe your- if there's a phrase or a way to describe your approach to theater?

Stuart Gordon Well, I think we are always trying to- to excite and surprise. I think surprise is kind of a key word. To do plays that no one else would think about doing, and to create the plays that our audiences really want to see. We will do plays that are specifically about our audiences on many occasions, such as "Bleacher Bums," which was about, you know, the Chicago sports fans, "Cops," which is about the Chicago policemen, "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," which was about the swinging Rush Street scene. And so-

Studs Terkel That was one of the earliest of David Mamet plays,

Stuart Gordon It was the very first-

Studs Terkel Very first, mmhmm.

Stuart Gordon -professional production of his work, and E/R was- it seemed like a natural. A friend of mine, Dr. Ron Berman, came to me. He was working in an ER, and he came to me with all of these stories. You know, he'd sit around and we would just talk about some of the insane things that would happen to him. I couldn't believe that they were real. And eventually, he went so far as to just make a tape of all of the best stories and I played it for the company and the company was very excited about the idea. And so for about a year, we all began to go to emergency rooms as observers and to interview doctors and nurses to find out as much as possible about that scene.

Studs Terkel And you went there. Well, Carolyn, you- I know you've been with the company here in its very beginning. Carolyn Purdy-Gordon-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Right.

Studs Terkel -and E/R, let's talk about E/R. This is the play now at the- by the way, the theater, it's a very good little sort of three-quarters round, on- what's the address again?

Stuart Gordon It's 3319 North Clark.

Richard Fire -19

Studs Terkel North Clark. But E/R Emergency Room, that's a phrase used by, I suppose, doctors and nurses,

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Right. Well, Ron Berman said if we had any interest in making his recollections into a play, that we, first of all, had to lock up the title E/R. He thought it was a natural and we've stuck with it ever since.

Studs Terkel Now we come to not simply being actors but being observers of the actual scene as well. Gary, of course, Gary's been an excellent journalist in town, has worked in the theater section, the [theater-book?] section Sun-Times for a number of years, and became an actor-director. So, now more than actors, you've, you four and I believe-

Stuart Gordon There's an additional

Studs Terkel -several more of your colleagues did something else. What was that?

Richard Fire Well, we got a skeletal idea of what we wanted to do, sort of a scenario, a rough idea of the sequence of cases that flow into the emergency room, sort of a "Grand Hotel" kind of play if you think of it that way. And then after that, each segment was committed to an improvisation. Just a few of us around a tape recorder enacting what we think the scene was supposed to be like given the characters, and given the expertise of Dr. Ron Berman who was with us. And after it was taped it was transcribed, after it was transcribed it was edited, after it was edited each segment was put together and it became a script.

Studs Terkel Richard Fire, you're one of the better actors in town-

Richard Fire Thank you.

Studs Terkel -you're playing, you and Gary play the two doctors, young doctors who, early in your career are here in the emergency- that's where doctors are a lot, aren't

Stuart Gordon Everybody goes through the emergency room, yes.

Gary Houston Youngish doctors.

Richard Fire He's the sincere one, and I'm sort of the- well, it's not really my full-time job, you know? I have a separate ENT practice, and I'm just moonlighting-

Studs Terkel ENT?

Richard Fire Ear, nose, and throat. I'm just kind of moonlighting 'cause I need a little extra money. And this indeed reflect- Gary, on the other hand, plays a doc who is an ER specialist. This is a new specialty. It's about 10 years old.

Stuart Gordon It's less than that, two years, actually.

Richard Fire Well-

Gary Houston It's emerging.

Richard Fire Emerging. Okay. And his attitude as to how the shop should be run and my attitude about how the shop should be run come into conflict.

Studs Terkel That is the- that is one of the techs of, [is that right?], but throughout, something is happening that is suddenly reality. We watch it, the audience does [and says?], this is incredible because we know it's true.

Stuart Gordon All the stories

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Everyone's been to an emergency room, virtually, you know? So we're attracting people both who work in them and who have gone to them.

Studs Terkel Now, where did you go? Now, you 4 and 2 more of your colleagues-

Stuart Gordon 4 more. There are 8 people

Studs Terkel together. 4 more, who are also in the cast-

Stuart Gordon Right, in the company.

Studs Terkel They went- where did you go? Why don't you to describe the scene.

Stuart Gordon We went to several emergency rooms, we went to Northwestern, we went to Illinois Masonic, Henrotin, Cook County. We really, I think-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Grant.

Stuart Gordon Grant. We checked-

Gary Houston Evanston.

Stuart Gordon -in Evanston. We checked about just about every emergency room in the city.

Studs Terkel So they came out- so the people there, at the emergency's, came out of neighborhoods, ethnic neighborhoods-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Mmhmm.

Studs Terkel -Black, Latino, poor whites, Appalachians.

Stuart Gordon We wanted to settle in an urban situation.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Stuart Gordon And it is true that the thing about the emergency room is so great that you get this total cross-section-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Stuart Gordon -of the population. Everybody from the very poor to the very rich comes into that emergency room at some point in the evening.

Studs Terkel So you- you- you watched the scene, you watched what was happening. When did you go? On Fri- Friday nights?

Richard Fire We got to put on coats, you know, blue doctor coats, and follow-

Studs Terkel Oh!

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Lab coats

Richard Fire -lab coats, and follow doctors around. I did a 6-hour shift. We all did, in various- I tell you the truth, I was so impressed with- you know, people criticize doctors for being arrogant or having attitudes, but especially in an emergency room situation, they're coming to you, it's life and death. You have to figure out what's wrong and then figure out how to treat it. And there's no, you know, you can't call in sick. I mean it's right there, you can't even take, you know, really, you can't take an hour off to think about it, you've got to deal with it right there.

Stuart Gordon We didn't go in as a group. We went in in ones and twos, and then we'd just accomp- each one would accompany a doctor or a nurse and just kind of shadow them through their entire rounds.

Studs Terkel Ah, so you would- you were

Unidentified Male Voice Mmhmm.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Oh,

Studs Terkel So, you had the white coats on, so they thought you were a part of the staff.

Richard Fire Yes.

Studs Terkel The people came

Stuart Gordon My initial experience, as a matter-of-fact, was-

Unidentified Male Voice [Laughing]

Stuart Gordon -with a drunk, which many are treated in emergency rooms, who grabbed me in this vice-like grip and said, "Doc, Doc, you got to help me, Doc! I want to kill!" [laughing]. I said, "you should talk to this man over

Unidentified Male Voice [Wheezy laughing]

Studs Terkel I mean, what makes it so good, the performer- the production, is that you're doing- you're not simply studying a role from a script, you actually were there-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Mmhmm.

Studs Terkel -and the role emerged because of your experience-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Mmhmm.

Studs Terkel -being there.

Gary Houston Yeah, you soak up a lot, it's like osmosis, and it was very valuable. As a matter of fact, I have to admit that the shifts that I visited, not much exciting happened during it. We didn't- I just happen to come into some pretty boring shifts, but the advantage of that was just to soak up the professional atmosphere, I guess.

Studs Terkel And before- pick up on something that Richard Fire said, you know, suddenly you realize how much work there is to be done. The doctors, the nurses. How, life and death, you know, overwhelms you so much [unintelligible]. Before that, did you say you use a tape recorder?

Stuart Gordon Mmhmm.

Studs Terkel How is that? So-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Those were to tape interviews where we- most of us knew at least one if not several doctors and nurses who have had emergency room experience. And so we invited them to come to the theater and one by one and we taped interviews with them at our theater, as well as doing this fieldwork.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon We never took a tape recorder into the hospitals.

Richard Fire But we also use a tapere- the way we actually get the scripts is after we do all this research and decide who's, you know, what is going to happen in the particular scene, we take parts in it and we improvise-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon And tape that.

Richard Fire -and that's how we get the first-

Unidentified Male Voice Yeah.

Richard Fire -script.

Studs Terkel So, the impulse comes from the actual words?

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Mmhmm. Oh, definitely.

Studs Terkel And then you take off and improvise on that?

Stuart Gordon For sure, and all of the stories that are portrayed in E/R, as crazy as some of them may be, are all true.

Studs Terkel Oh, yeah. Suppose we- because- let's pick up on something that Richard said a moment ago about the work, these are heroes and heroines, unsung heroes and heroines, the docs and the nurses and the attendants who

Stuart Gordon I don't know if I would go that far. I mean, I think that sometimes they are, that they are- heroics or called for many times. But what we try to show in E/R is that they're just people, that they are not- that they make mistakes, but they're not gods in white coats and that they're capable of having mistakes and judgment and [lighter flicking] all kinds of things, and being insensitive to the problems of the patients that come through there. We wanted to really give an accurate picture of the good and the bad side of the emergency room.

Richard Fire They're very human heroes. They're heroes-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Richard Fire -but they're human beings.

Studs Terkel Well, I think about the overwhelming pressures, the stuff that comes in, and then we come back to the state of medicine, too without meaning to, it's a commentary on that. We could not- and that's one of those scenes, someone dies because the surgery crew could not be there

Gary Houston That's one of the factors, yeah. Although, I think it's also sort of implicit in the play that even if they had arrived, that the two men that we lost would be goners anyway because they were pretty far gone down the line.

Stuart Gordon The save rate in life-threatening situations in an emergency room is less than 20%.

Studs Terkel The save rate-

Stuart Gordon That's right.

Studs Terkel

Stuart Gordon Now, one of the most imaginative theaters in Chicago for a number of years now has been the Organic Theater, and way back you know, Stuart Gordon, the founding director of it and still directing it, and his colleagues, who write as well as direct. To explain that you may recall Bleacher Bums, that was so celebrated and so funny and so accurate, a number of members of the cast, including Stuart Gordon and his wife, you might say co-author, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, and two of his colleagues, Gary Houston and Richard Fire are around the microphone now, and they're part of a play called E/R Emergency Room. Emergency room, that is so much a part of Chicago's nightlife scene, particularly in hospitals where things happen. And what they did is the story of this discussion, this roundtable we'll have. E/R, which has received very enthusiastic reviews from critics as well as audiences, been running now for 6 months at the Organic Theater. And we'll get the address in a moment. And it's- it's a cooperative project, and 4 of the creative spirits and their- their colleagues too, are round and about, and it makes terribly exciting theater, and it's part of the tradition of Organic. It's organic. It certainly is. So in a moment my guests and E/R, after this message. [Pause in recording] Where do we begin? Stuart, when the group itself came to be, this was kind of the spirit of it, wasn't it? To create new work, yes. New- We're dedicated to exclusively new work. I'm thinking that some of the past works that have been- for which there was more [celebrated?], Warp, for one, Huck Finn- Right. -for another, what is the- how would you describe your- if there's a phrase or a way to describe your approach to theater? Well, I think we are always trying to- to excite and surprise. I think surprise is kind of a key word. To do plays that no one else would think about doing, and to create the plays that our audiences really want to see. We will do plays that are specifically about our audiences on many occasions, such as "Bleacher Bums," which was about, you know, the Chicago sports fans, "Cops," which is about the Chicago policemen, "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," which was about the swinging Rush Street scene. And so- That was one of the earliest of David Mamet plays, wasn't It was the very first- Very first, mmhmm. -professional production of his work, and E/R was- it seemed like a natural. A friend of mine, Dr. Ron Berman, came to me. He was working in an ER, and he came to me with all of these stories. You know, he'd sit around and we would just talk about some of the insane things that would happen to him. I couldn't believe that they were real. And eventually, he went so far as to just make a tape of all of the best stories and I played it for the company and the company was very excited about the idea. And so for about a year, we all began to go to emergency rooms as observers and to interview doctors and nurses to find out as much as possible about that scene. And you went there. Well, Carolyn, you- I know you've been with the company here in its very beginning. Carolyn Purdy-Gordon- Right. -and E/R, let's talk about E/R. This is the play now at the- by the way, the theater, it's a very good little sort of three-quarters round, on- what's the address again? It's 3319 North Clark. -19 North Clark. But E/R Emergency Room, that's a phrase used by, I suppose, doctors and nurses, isn't Right. Well, Ron Berman said if we had any interest in making his recollections into a play, that we, first of all, had to lock up the title E/R. He thought it was a natural and we've stuck with it ever since. Now we come to not simply being actors but being observers of the actual scene as well. Gary, of course, Gary's been an excellent journalist in town, has worked in the theater section, the [theater-book?] section Sun-Times for a number of years, and became an actor-director. So, now more than actors, you've, you four and I believe- There's an additional -several more of your colleagues did something else. What was that? Well, we got a skeletal idea of what we wanted to do, sort of a scenario, a rough idea of the sequence of cases that flow into the emergency room, sort of a "Grand Hotel" kind of play if you think of it that way. And then after that, each segment was committed to an improvisation. Just a few of us around a tape recorder enacting what we think the scene was supposed to be like given the characters, and given the expertise of Dr. Ron Berman who was with us. And after it was taped it was transcribed, after it was transcribed it was edited, after it was edited each segment was put together and it became a script. Richard Fire, you're one of the better actors in town- Thank you. -you're playing, you and Gary play the two doctors, young doctors who, early in your career are here in the emergency- that's where doctors are a lot, aren't they? Everybody goes through the emergency room, yes. Youngish doctors. He's the sincere one, and I'm sort of the- well, it's not really my full-time job, you know? I have a separate ENT practice, and I'm just moonlighting- ENT? Ear, nose, and throat. I'm just kind of moonlighting 'cause I need a little extra money. And this indeed reflect- Gary, on the other hand, plays a doc who is an ER specialist. This is a new specialty. It's about 10 years old. It's less than that, two years, actually. Well- It's emerging. Emerging. Okay. And his attitude as to how the shop should be run and my attitude about how the shop should be run come into conflict. That is the- that is one of the techs of, [is that right?], but throughout, something is happening that is suddenly reality. We watch it, the audience does [and says?], this is incredible because we know it's true. All the stories are Everyone's been to an emergency room, virtually, you know? So we're attracting people both who work in them and who have gone to them. Now, where did you go? Now, you 4 and 2 more of your colleagues- 4 more. There are 8 people together. 4 more, who are also in the cast- Right, in the company. They went- where did you go? Why don't you to describe the scene. We went to several emergency rooms, we went to Northwestern, we went to Illinois Masonic, Henrotin, Cook County. We really, I think- Grant. Grant. We checked- Evanston. -in Evanston. We checked about just about every emergency room in the city. So they came out- so the people there, at the emergency's, came out of neighborhoods, ethnic neighborhoods- Mmhmm. -Black, Latino, poor whites, Appalachians. We wanted to settle in an urban situation. Yeah. And it is true that the thing about the emergency room is so great that you get this total cross-section- Yeah. -of the population. Everybody from the very poor to the very rich comes into that emergency room at some point in the evening. So you- you- you watched the scene, you watched what was happening. When did you go? On Fri- Friday nights? We got to put on coats, you know, blue doctor coats, and follow- Oh! Lab coats [laughs]. -lab coats, and follow doctors around. I did a 6-hour shift. We all did, in various- I tell you the truth, I was so impressed with- you know, people criticize doctors for being arrogant or having attitudes, but especially in an emergency room situation, they're coming to you, it's life and death. You have to figure out what's wrong and then figure out how to treat it. And there's no, you know, you can't call in sick. I mean it's right there, you can't even take, you know, really, you can't take an hour off to think about it, you've got to deal with it right there. We didn't go in as a group. We went in in ones and twos, and then we'd just accomp- each one would accompany a doctor or a nurse and just kind of shadow them through their entire rounds. Ah, so you would- you were inconspicuous. Mmhmm. Oh, So, you had the white coats on, so they thought you were a part of the staff. Yes. The people came out- My initial experience, as a matter-of-fact, was- [Laughing] -with a drunk, which many are treated in emergency rooms, who grabbed me in this vice-like grip and said, "Doc, Doc, you got to help me, Doc! I want to kill!" [laughing]. I said, "you should talk to this man over here." [Wheezy laughing] I mean, what makes it so good, the performer- the production, is that you're doing- you're not simply studying a role from a script, you actually were there- Mmhmm. -and the role emerged because of your experience- Mmhmm. -being there. Yeah, you soak up a lot, it's like osmosis, and it was very valuable. As a matter of fact, I have to admit that the shifts that I visited, not much exciting happened during it. We didn't- I just happen to come into some pretty boring shifts, but the advantage of that was just to soak up the professional atmosphere, I guess. And before- pick up on something that Richard Fire said, you know, suddenly you realize how much work there is to be done. The doctors, the nurses. How, life and death, you know, overwhelms you so much [unintelligible]. Before that, did you say you use a tape recorder? Mmhmm. How is that? So- Those were to tape interviews where we- most of us knew at least one if not several doctors and nurses who have had emergency room experience. And so we invited them to come to the theater and one by one and we taped interviews with them at our theater, as well as doing this fieldwork. Yeah. We never took a tape recorder into the hospitals. But we also use a tapere- the way we actually get the scripts is after we do all this research and decide who's, you know, what is going to happen in the particular scene, we take parts in it and we improvise- And tape that. -and that's how we get the first- Yeah. -script. So, the impulse comes from the actual words? Mmhmm. Oh, definitely. And then you take off and improvise on that? For sure, and all of the stories that are portrayed in E/R, as crazy as some of them may be, are all true. Oh, yeah. Suppose we- because- let's pick up on something that Richard said a moment ago about the work, these are heroes and heroines, unsung heroes and heroines, the docs and the nurses and the attendants who were I don't know if I would go that far. I mean, I think that sometimes they are, that they are- heroics or called for many times. But what we try to show in E/R is that they're just people, that they are not- that they make mistakes, but they're not gods in white coats and that they're capable of having mistakes and judgment and [lighter flicking] all kinds of things, and being insensitive to the problems of the patients that come through there. We wanted to really give an accurate picture of the good and the bad side of the emergency room. They're very human heroes. They're heroes- Yeah. -but they're human beings. Well, I think about the overwhelming pressures, the stuff that comes in, and then we come back to the state of medicine, too without meaning to, it's a commentary on that. We could not- and that's one of those scenes, someone dies because the surgery crew could not be there on That's one of the factors, yeah. Although, I think it's also sort of implicit in the play that even if they had arrived, that the two men that we lost would be goners anyway because they were pretty far gone down the line. The save rate in life-threatening situations in an emergency room is less than 20%. The save rate- That's right. -is That's [Laughs] [Laughs] [Unintelliglbe] [Laughs] Sure. [Laughs] Right. Right. Right, [Laughs] [Laughs] [Laughs] Right.

Studs Terkel You mean four out of five go?

Stuart Gordon That's right.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Isn't that just situations where the heart stops beating-

Stuart Gordon No.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon -and they have to do CPR? That's all life-threatening situations?

Stuart Gordon Yeah, that's right.

Studs Terkel So it's that- so- because by the time they get in there it's pretty bad.

Stuart Gordon Well it's, you know, it's when they do save somebody it is a very special- they write it down on a blackboard as a matter of fact in most emergency rooms, and give credit to the person who was responsible for it.

Gary Houston But definitely the emergency room we're doing- we are doing is an understaffed emergency room-

Stuart Gordon Although-

Gary Houston -that could use more people there.

Stuart Gordon -very few people are aware of the fact that most emergency rooms, unless it's a full trauma center, that there is not a surgical team on duty 24 hours, that the surgical team has to be called in and oftentimes will take at least an hour to get there. And what we wanted to show the, again, the reality of the emergency room situation in the majority of the emergency rooms.

Richard Fire There was a tendency on- Gary, tell me if I'm wrong, but I think we wanted to glorify in a way, you know, we did this research and you see, really, them in the trenches and there's a real feeling of even though they're flawed that it is heroic. I have to say, I think Stuart has a tendency to play up the- their negative aspects of people practicing medicine. He may- he has his own emergency room story which he may or may tell you.

Stuart Gordon [Laughter]

Richard Fire And Dr. Ron Berman really mediated between us so that they aren't all good, they aren't all bad-

Studs Terkel Mmhmm.

Richard Fire -so we try to strike a balanced position and the immediate change is how you have to go from something that's very serious and life-threatening, and the next person in right off the bat, it's funny, it's, you know.

Studs Terkel Of course, it's got the humor, the- the human comedy, it is sorta the theater, I say theater, I mean the actual place, you know, where human comedy takes place. Some stuff is hilarious, unfortunately so, but funny.

Stuart Gordon It is a very funny play, and, I mean, the audience I think respond to it with more laughter than "Bleacher Bums" at times. I think part of that, though, is built into the emergency room situation, that the doctors and nurses that work there have to have a sense of humor to be able to get through it, and that they oftentimes will joke about things and one of the most common things we heard in the interviews was that they were constantly being reprimanded by the administration of the hospitals for laughing too much on duty.

Studs Terkel This is- you were going to say something, Carolyn?

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon I was just going to say that I think that- that the other aspect that appeals to audiences about E/R that is unique, is that when you go to a real emergency room you, of course, ultimately, at some point or another are blocked out. The screen is drawn across and the patient is inside and you're outside, or the door is closed, or whatever. And this play, I think, appeals to people's- we're all a little voyeuristic and it, you know, it allows you to, you know, see behind the closed doors and the drawn screens and the, you know, closed drapes-

Gary Houston Although some people have been led away because there was a little bit more than they could take-

Studs Terkel Mmhm.

Gary Houston -and I'm simply speaking about a person who has [leaves?] on his chest, you know? There have been people who walked out, not because they disliked the show or anything, [laughs] but because they're getting squeamish already.

Studs Terkel But you see, it's a combination of all, you know. Stuart's pointing out that doctors get, nurses get pulled out sometimes for laughing. It's not that they're insensitive.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon No.

Studs Terkel It's the very nature- it is- the funny things sometimes that which verges on the tragic is funny.

Gary Houston Mmhmm.

Studs Terkel And this is what Beckett writes about, this is what [unintelligible], the fact as it is, because life is goofy, you know, and therefore it's theater!

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon And you see people behaving under the most bizarre conditions when they're in an emergency room, you know?

Stuart Gordon It's a crisis situation, you know, they're at their- in an extreme situation.

Studs Terkel Like you have- well, perhaps- we've been talking about the play, possibly because because since Gary Houston and Richard Fire play the 2 doctors that might have a scene together, or the basis for it, we have that now. But here's some of the people who've come in. We'll start that. Immediately- well, really works on several levels, doesn't it? There's the receptionist [works there?]-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon It's intended to.

Studs Terkel -the tough nurse at work, who's solid. These two guys having a seemingly a feud between them and the beginning-

Gary Houston Mmhmm. -a

Studs Terkel -a misunderstanding. In the meantime, the cases start piling in, so there are several things happening simultaneously.

Stuart Gordon That's right. And eventually, it gets to the point where there's so much stuff coming in that nobody, no human beings could possibly deal with at all. And everybody gets called into service, including the receptionist who, one of the things we found it real interesting, has absolutely no medical training whatsoever. And oftentimes in an ER situation, it's the receptionist who makes the decision as to how serious someone is and how soon they should be treated. They have a thing called triage in which they have to make those kinds of decisions and they're oftentimes made by people who, you know, have less than a high school education.

Studs Terkel Well, that's a commentary on our country's health situation, medicine, isn't it?

Gary Houston Yeah. Yeah, I think a lot of the- and I think a lot of the frightening aspects of the play must be about that, about how- and I know a lot of people have this fear of hospitals and doctors and nurses, mostly of just hospitals and institutions, as being where were competence and incompetence are 2 things hard to distinguish from one another after a while, and it causes a lot of anxiety in patients when they go into them. And I think we probably- it's good that we didn't try to dodge that question, that we went for it, too.

Stuart Gordon A lot of the cases that come in aren't actual emergencies either. I mean a lot of them are-

Gary Houston Yes.

Stuart Gordon -people who are using the emergency room for other things even then medical help. I mean, there are regulars who come in, bag ladies who use the waiting room as a place to stay warm in the wintertime.

Gary Houston Studs, what you said at the beginning about emergency rooms being part of our nightlife [laughs] is actually very true [laughs] for some people. It should be listed in the Tribune

Studs Terkel or So

Stuart Gordon There's always a group of cops that are sitting there having coffee, I mean, it's a regular stop-off point.

Studs Terkel It's a stop-off point to get in out of the rain too, isn't

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Come in and be social.

Studs Terkel You see, you find some of these old boys on Michigan, in these stock brokerage houses watching the board. They don't have a [sept?], they sit there to keep warm, or in the public library reading room very often.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon That's right, this is another one those kind of places-

Studs Terkel And so here too the emergency room is that too, isn't

Richard Fire I think it's a relief from loneliness for a lot of people, for just downright loneliness.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon There used to be a lady who- who had- this was a case that we heard about in California, this woman had- was on Medicare. And so all of her medical bills were taken care of. But she herself was- was fairly broke. She was an elderly woman who was on a pension, and she had a friend who lived right near the hospital. So when she wanted to go and visit with her friend she would play sick and call an ambulance which was paid for by Medicare. She would make a very, you know, perfunctory visit to the ER, and then go around the corner to visit with her lady friend. And it was much cheaper for her to do that than take a cab or a bus because the trip was paid for.

Richard Fire People do abuse the institution, it's true. And also now, the fact that Americans are so mobile, people move around so much, that a lot of people don't have a regular family doctor so they use it as a clinic.

Studs Terkel Oh yeah. But I don't think- you don't mind me correctin' ya- that's an abuse of it.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon [Laughs]

Stuart Gordon

Richard Fire

Gary Houston Now, one of the most imaginative theaters in Chicago for a number of years now has been the Organic Theater, and way back you know, Stuart Gordon, the founding director of it and still directing it, and his colleagues, who write as well as direct. To explain that you may recall Bleacher Bums, that was so celebrated and so funny and so accurate, a number of members of the cast, including Stuart Gordon and his wife, you might say co-author, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, and two of his colleagues, Gary Houston and Richard Fire are around the microphone now, and they're part of a play called E/R Emergency Room. Emergency room, that is so much a part of Chicago's nightlife scene, particularly in hospitals where things happen. And what they did is the story of this discussion, this roundtable we'll have. E/R, which has received very enthusiastic reviews from critics as well as audiences, been running now for 6 months at the Organic Theater. And we'll get the address in a moment. And it's- it's a cooperative project, and 4 of the creative spirits and their- their colleagues too, are round and about, and it makes terribly exciting theater, and it's part of the tradition of Organic. It's organic. It certainly is. So in a moment my guests and E/R, after this message. [Pause in recording] Where do we begin? Stuart, when the group itself came to be, this was kind of the spirit of it, wasn't it? To create new work, yes. New- We're dedicated to exclusively new work. I'm thinking that some of the past works that have been- for which there was more [celebrated?], Warp, for one, Huck Finn- Right. -for another, what is the- how would you describe your- if there's a phrase or a way to describe your approach to theater? Well, I think we are always trying to- to excite and surprise. I think surprise is kind of a key word. To do plays that no one else would think about doing, and to create the plays that our audiences really want to see. We will do plays that are specifically about our audiences on many occasions, such as "Bleacher Bums," which was about, you know, the Chicago sports fans, "Cops," which is about the Chicago policemen, "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," which was about the swinging Rush Street scene. And so- That was one of the earliest of David Mamet plays, wasn't It was the very first- Very first, mmhmm. -professional production of his work, and E/R was- it seemed like a natural. A friend of mine, Dr. Ron Berman, came to me. He was working in an ER, and he came to me with all of these stories. You know, he'd sit around and we would just talk about some of the insane things that would happen to him. I couldn't believe that they were real. And eventually, he went so far as to just make a tape of all of the best stories and I played it for the company and the company was very excited about the idea. And so for about a year, we all began to go to emergency rooms as observers and to interview doctors and nurses to find out as much as possible about that scene. And you went there. Well, Carolyn, you- I know you've been with the company here in its very beginning. Carolyn Purdy-Gordon- Right. -and E/R, let's talk about E/R. This is the play now at the- by the way, the theater, it's a very good little sort of three-quarters round, on- what's the address again? It's 3319 North Clark. -19 North Clark. But E/R Emergency Room, that's a phrase used by, I suppose, doctors and nurses, isn't Right. Well, Ron Berman said if we had any interest in making his recollections into a play, that we, first of all, had to lock up the title E/R. He thought it was a natural and we've stuck with it ever since. Now we come to not simply being actors but being observers of the actual scene as well. Gary, of course, Gary's been an excellent journalist in town, has worked in the theater section, the [theater-book?] section Sun-Times for a number of years, and became an actor-director. So, now more than actors, you've, you four and I believe- There's an additional -several more of your colleagues did something else. What was that? Well, we got a skeletal idea of what we wanted to do, sort of a scenario, a rough idea of the sequence of cases that flow into the emergency room, sort of a "Grand Hotel" kind of play if you think of it that way. And then after that, each segment was committed to an improvisation. Just a few of us around a tape recorder enacting what we think the scene was supposed to be like given the characters, and given the expertise of Dr. Ron Berman who was with us. And after it was taped it was transcribed, after it was transcribed it was edited, after it was edited each segment was put together and it became a script. Richard Fire, you're one of the better actors in town- Thank you. -you're playing, you and Gary play the two doctors, young doctors who, early in your career are here in the emergency- that's where doctors are a lot, aren't they? Everybody goes through the emergency room, yes. Youngish doctors. He's the sincere one, and I'm sort of the- well, it's not really my full-time job, you know? I have a separate ENT practice, and I'm just moonlighting- ENT? Ear, nose, and throat. I'm just kind of moonlighting 'cause I need a little extra money. And this indeed reflect- Gary, on the other hand, plays a doc who is an ER specialist. This is a new specialty. It's about 10 years old. It's less than that, two years, actually. Well- It's emerging. Emerging. Okay. And his attitude as to how the shop should be run and my attitude about how the shop should be run come into conflict. That is the- that is one of the techs of, [is that right?], but throughout, something is happening that is suddenly reality. We watch it, the audience does [and says?], this is incredible because we know it's true. All the stories are Everyone's been to an emergency room, virtually, you know? So we're attracting people both who work in them and who have gone to them. Now, where did you go? Now, you 4 and 2 more of your colleagues- 4 more. There are 8 people together. 4 more, who are also in the cast- Right, in the company. They went- where did you go? Why don't you to describe the scene. We went to several emergency rooms, we went to Northwestern, we went to Illinois Masonic, Henrotin, Cook County. We really, I think- Grant. Grant. We checked- Evanston. -in Evanston. We checked about just about every emergency room in the city. So they came out- so the people there, at the emergency's, came out of neighborhoods, ethnic neighborhoods- Mmhmm. -Black, Latino, poor whites, Appalachians. We wanted to settle in an urban situation. Yeah. And it is true that the thing about the emergency room is so great that you get this total cross-section- Yeah. -of the population. Everybody from the very poor to the very rich comes into that emergency room at some point in the evening. So you- you- you watched the scene, you watched what was happening. When did you go? On Fri- Friday nights? We got to put on coats, you know, blue doctor coats, and follow- Oh! Lab coats [laughs]. -lab coats, and follow doctors around. I did a 6-hour shift. We all did, in various- I tell you the truth, I was so impressed with- you know, people criticize doctors for being arrogant or having attitudes, but especially in an emergency room situation, they're coming to you, it's life and death. You have to figure out what's wrong and then figure out how to treat it. And there's no, you know, you can't call in sick. I mean it's right there, you can't even take, you know, really, you can't take an hour off to think about it, you've got to deal with it right there. We didn't go in as a group. We went in in ones and twos, and then we'd just accomp- each one would accompany a doctor or a nurse and just kind of shadow them through their entire rounds. Ah, so you would- you were inconspicuous. Mmhmm. Oh, So, you had the white coats on, so they thought you were a part of the staff. Yes. The people came out- My initial experience, as a matter-of-fact, was- [Laughing] -with a drunk, which many are treated in emergency rooms, who grabbed me in this vice-like grip and said, "Doc, Doc, you got to help me, Doc! I want to kill!" [laughing]. I said, "you should talk to this man over here." [Wheezy laughing] I mean, what makes it so good, the performer- the production, is that you're doing- you're not simply studying a role from a script, you actually were there- Mmhmm. -and the role emerged because of your experience- Mmhmm. -being there. Yeah, you soak up a lot, it's like osmosis, and it was very valuable. As a matter of fact, I have to admit that the shifts that I visited, not much exciting happened during it. We didn't- I just happen to come into some pretty boring shifts, but the advantage of that was just to soak up the professional atmosphere, I guess. And before- pick up on something that Richard Fire said, you know, suddenly you realize how much work there is to be done. The doctors, the nurses. How, life and death, you know, overwhelms you so much [unintelligible]. Before that, did you say you use a tape recorder? Mmhmm. How is that? So- Those were to tape interviews where we- most of us knew at least one if not several doctors and nurses who have had emergency room experience. And so we invited them to come to the theater and one by one and we taped interviews with them at our theater, as well as doing this fieldwork. Yeah. We never took a tape recorder into the hospitals. But we also use a tapere- the way we actually get the scripts is after we do all this research and decide who's, you know, what is going to happen in the particular scene, we take parts in it and we improvise- And tape that. -and that's how we get the first- Yeah. -script. So, the impulse comes from the actual words? Mmhmm. Oh, definitely. And then you take off and improvise on that? For sure, and all of the stories that are portrayed in E/R, as crazy as some of them may be, are all true. Oh, yeah. Suppose we- because- let's pick up on something that Richard said a moment ago about the work, these are heroes and heroines, unsung heroes and heroines, the docs and the nurses and the attendants who were I don't know if I would go that far. I mean, I think that sometimes they are, that they are- heroics or called for many times. But what we try to show in E/R is that they're just people, that they are not- that they make mistakes, but they're not gods in white coats and that they're capable of having mistakes and judgment and [lighter flicking] all kinds of things, and being insensitive to the problems of the patients that come through there. We wanted to really give an accurate picture of the good and the bad side of the emergency room. They're very human heroes. They're heroes- Yeah. -but they're human beings. Well, I think about the overwhelming pressures, the stuff that comes in, and then we come back to the state of medicine, too without meaning to, it's a commentary on that. We could not- and that's one of those scenes, someone dies because the surgery crew could not be there on That's one of the factors, yeah. Although, I think it's also sort of implicit in the play that even if they had arrived, that the two men that we lost would be goners anyway because they were pretty far gone down the line. The save rate in life-threatening situations in an emergency room is less than 20%. The save rate- That's right. -is That's You mean four out of five go? That's right. Isn't that just situations where the heart stops beating- No. -and they have to do CPR? That's all life-threatening situations? Yeah, that's right. So it's that- so- because by the time they get in there it's pretty bad. Well it's, you know, it's when they do save somebody it is a very special- they write it down on a blackboard as a matter of fact in most emergency rooms, and give credit to the person who was responsible for it. But definitely the emergency room we're doing- we are doing is an understaffed emergency room- Although- -that could use more people there. -very few people are aware of the fact that most emergency rooms, unless it's a full trauma center, that there is not a surgical team on duty 24 hours, that the surgical team has to be called in and oftentimes will take at least an hour to get there. And what we wanted to show the, again, the reality of the emergency room situation in the majority of the emergency rooms. There was a tendency on- Gary, tell me if I'm wrong, but I think we wanted to glorify in a way, you know, we did this research and you see, really, them in the trenches and there's a real feeling of even though they're flawed that it is heroic. I have to say, I think Stuart has a tendency to play up the- their negative aspects of people practicing medicine. He may- he has his own emergency room story which he may or may tell you. [Laughter] And Dr. Ron Berman really mediated between us so that they aren't all good, they aren't all bad- Mmhmm. -so we try to strike a balanced position and the immediate change is how you have to go from something that's very serious and life-threatening, and the next person in right off the bat, it's funny, it's, you know. Of course, it's got the humor, the- the human comedy, it is sorta the theater, I say theater, I mean the actual place, you know, where human comedy takes place. Some stuff is hilarious, unfortunately so, but funny. It is a very funny play, and, I mean, the audience I think respond to it with more laughter than "Bleacher Bums" at times. I think part of that, though, is built into the emergency room situation, that the doctors and nurses that work there have to have a sense of humor to be able to get through it, and that they oftentimes will joke about things and one of the most common things we heard in the interviews was that they were constantly being reprimanded by the administration of the hospitals for laughing too much on duty. This is- you were going to say something, Carolyn? I was just going to say that I think that- that the other aspect that appeals to audiences about E/R that is unique, is that when you go to a real emergency room you, of course, ultimately, at some point or another are blocked out. The screen is drawn across and the patient is inside and you're outside, or the door is closed, or whatever. And this play, I think, appeals to people's- we're all a little voyeuristic and it, you know, it allows you to, you know, see behind the closed doors and the drawn screens and the, you know, closed drapes- Although some people have been led away because there was a little bit more than they could take- Mmhm. -and I'm simply speaking about a person who has [leaves?] on his chest, you know? There have been people who walked out, not because they disliked the show or anything, [laughs] but because they're getting squeamish already. But you see, it's a combination of all, you know. Stuart's pointing out that doctors get, nurses get pulled out sometimes for laughing. It's not that they're insensitive. No. It's the very nature- it is- the funny things sometimes that which verges on the tragic is funny. Mmhmm. And this is what Beckett writes about, this is what [unintelligible], the fact as it is, because life is goofy, you know, and therefore it's theater! And you see people behaving under the most bizarre conditions when they're in an emergency room, you know? It's a crisis situation, you know, they're at their- in an extreme situation. Like you have- well, perhaps- we've been talking about the play, possibly because because since Gary Houston and Richard Fire play the 2 doctors that might have a scene together, or the basis for it, we have that now. But here's some of the people who've come in. We'll start that. Immediately- well, really works on several levels, doesn't it? There's the receptionist [works there?]- It's intended to. -the tough nurse at work, who's solid. These two guys having a seemingly a feud between them and the beginning- Mmhmm. -a misunderstanding. In the meantime, the cases start piling in, so there are several things happening simultaneously. That's right. And eventually, it gets to the point where there's so much stuff coming in that nobody, no human beings could possibly deal with at all. And everybody gets called into service, including the receptionist who, one of the things we found it real interesting, has absolutely no medical training whatsoever. And oftentimes in an ER situation, it's the receptionist who makes the decision as to how serious someone is and how soon they should be treated. They have a thing called triage in which they have to make those kinds of decisions and they're oftentimes made by people who, you know, have less than a high school education. Well, that's a commentary on our country's health situation, medicine, isn't it? Yeah. Yeah, I think a lot of the- and I think a lot of the frightening aspects of the play must be about that, about how- and I know a lot of people have this fear of hospitals and doctors and nurses, mostly of just hospitals and institutions, as being where were competence and incompetence are 2 things hard to distinguish from one another after a while, and it causes a lot of anxiety in patients when they go into them. And I think we probably- it's good that we didn't try to dodge that question, that we went for it, too. A lot of the cases that come in aren't actual emergencies either. I mean a lot of them are- Yes. -people who are using the emergency room for other things even then medical help. I mean, there are regulars who come in, bag ladies who use the waiting room as a place to stay warm in the wintertime. Studs, what you said at the beginning about emergency rooms being part of our nightlife [laughs] is actually very true [laughs] for some people. It should be listed in the Tribune or So There's always a group of cops that are sitting there having coffee, I mean, it's a regular stop-off point. It's a stop-off point to get in out of the rain too, isn't it? Come in and be social. You see, you find some of these old boys on Michigan, in these stock brokerage houses watching the board. They don't have a [sept?], they sit there to keep warm, or in the public library reading room very often. That's right, this is another one those kind of places- And so here too the emergency room is that too, isn't it? I think it's a relief from loneliness for a lot of people, for just downright loneliness. There used to be a lady who- who had- this was a case that we heard about in California, this woman had- was on Medicare. And so all of her medical bills were taken care of. But she herself was- was fairly broke. She was an elderly woman who was on a pension, and she had a friend who lived right near the hospital. So when she wanted to go and visit with her friend she would play sick and call an ambulance which was paid for by Medicare. She would make a very, you know, perfunctory visit to the ER, and then go around the corner to visit with her lady friend. And it was much cheaper for her to do that than take a cab or a bus because the trip was paid for. People do abuse the institution, it's true. And also now, the fact that Americans are so mobile, people move around so much, that a lot of people don't have a regular family doctor so they use it as a clinic. Oh yeah. But I don't think- you don't mind me correctin' ya- that's an abuse of it. [Laughs] [Laughs] [Laughs] [Laughs] [Unintelliglbe] [Laughs] Sure. [Laughs] Right. Right. Right, [Laughs] [Laughs] [Laughs] Right.

Studs Terkel No, I think it's a use of it. I mean, it serves a purpose too-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon I tend to agree with you, but I don't know if ER personnel would see

Stuart Gordon No, well they do, the administrations now realize that the ER is a terrific moneymaker for a hospital, that about-

Studs Terkel It is?

Stuart Gordon Yes, oh yeah.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon A lot of their revenue comes from ER traffic-

Stuart Gordon It's the most expensive way to be treated too. I mean, it's something that we found out is that it's much more inexpensive to have a regular doctor and to be- or go to- go to a clinic than it is to go to ER, that it's- it's a terrific money-making thing, and that the new philosophy now from the hospital is just never turn anyone away. They used to be able to say, hey there's nothing wrong with you go home, but now they don't do that.

Studs Terkel You say it's a money-making- aren't many ER- do they charge people who come in an emergency?

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Oh my, yes.

Stuart Gordon Sure, oh yeah.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Gary- you know,

Studs Terkel Shows you how naive I am. I thought in the emergency things, people come in and they're treated you know-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon For free?

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Richard Fire [Laughs] Sorry.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon [Laughs] Studs. This is America.

Gary Houston No, I thought- as a matter of fact, I thought so too, when- before I got into this. And I think it's become- it's because from childhood I don't think we really think of hospitals as corporations, do

Studs Terkel we? You

Gary Houston We think of them as- I mean, we're not living in a welfare state, and yet when it comes to medicine we tend to still think we are. I think in

Studs Terkel You see, this is interesting. Gary and I, he had visited- the reason I [unintelligible] said I'm still thinking of a visit to London and to Stockholm, you see,

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Mmhmm.

Studs Terkel And, well,

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Different story over there with

Studs Terkel But I'm saying, this is what it is, you see. Life and death, and it's still the question. We know when you go into a hospital, of course, the first thing they ask is, "how's your credit" or-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon "Who's your insurance company?"

Studs Terkel Yeah, where's your insurance. We know that, but an emergency, you see, there it is-

Stuart Gordon Well they will- they will treat an emergency situation, I mean we should say-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon They won't turn you away if you have an empty

Stuart Gordon And a lot- and a lot of derelicts, you know, do come through the emergency rooms that are obviously unable to pay. But what they will do is they will shuffle them out of there as fast as they possibly can to the detox center, to the veteran's hospital, or some other state, you know, supported hospital.

Studs Terkel You know earlier, Stuart Gordon, the director, was saying the triage is [private?]. Why don't you talk a little- how is- triage, we know it comes out World War I in which doctors had to determine who's going to- who's going to be saved, who is not, who's gonna go, who's not gonna go.

Stuart Gordon What we found

Studs Terkel is And

Stuart Gordon -it wasn't- it isn't even a question it was going to be saved, that originally the triage idea was "who is most able to go back into the battle?" That's the first person that you treat, not the person who needs treatment for, you know- if there's someone who's really badly hurt, you will maybe overlook him to treat somebody who has a minor injury that can be sent back into the front. And in a sense, the triage works in a similar way in a hospital, that the- the idea is who- who needs the help, who has the most severe problem, who needs the help the quickest, and those decisions are oftentimes as I said, made by the receptionist when you walk in. And everyone knows, you know, has waiting stories, sitting in an emergency room waiting. And that's just considered to be a way of life. One of the emergency rooms that we went to had a sign up that said the minimum wait in this emergency room is 8 hours.

Studs Terkel The minimum

Stuart Gordon Yes, so that you should be preprepared to sit here for 8 hours to be treated.

Studs Terkel So, yeah, it's like a sitting. People become accustomed. Certainly, we know that welfare- people are on welfare. One of the things they become accustomed to is waiting.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Being on line.

Studs Terkel Waiting. And so that's the emergency room too-

Richard Fire When

Stuart Gordon That was one of the things that struck us when we were in- excuse me- when we were on the job, was that you'd hear this constant moaning and groaning and people that were in pain going "Doc, Doc, help, help." And the doctors and nurses would ignore them. And after a while, you realized that it wasn't that they were being cruel, as much as it was that they would go nuts if they, every single time an individual moaned, they had to run over and find out what was wrong. You have to sort of, you know, like it- it becomes white noise that they can tune

Studs Terkel Mmhmm.

Richard Fire When we were previewing the show we had a different opening. We had a child who had lacerated her chin and she needed stitches. Well, she was sitting there waiting because they didn't want to wake the one doctor who'd been working a 48-hour shift, so rather than do that, they knew that the other doctor was coming on, and they let them sit there for, you know, an extra half an hour. We subsequently cut the scene because we wanted to start the show a little quicker, but we tried to reflect-

Stuart Gordon And it was- it was- it was interesting was with the actors when we were working on it said, "no, no, no doctor would let a child with a bleeding chin wait." And Dr. Berman said, "yes he would." He goes, "as long as it was not serious blood loss, you know, it's- stitching up the chin is not a big deal." And if there's, you know- the fact that the other doctor is on a 48-hour shift was another thing that- that flipped us out. You know, that there would be such a thing, that a doctor can work 48 hours straight in an emergency room, and that you know he can grab little bits and pieces and sleep here and there. But the idea that you're being treated by someone who hasn't slept in 2 days-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Stuart Gordon -is a little scary, I think. But it's, you know, again, it's it sort of goes back to the old school of emergency room, which is that it's just a way for moonlighting doctors to make extra dough. And if they need a little money that week they can come in and work their 48 hour shift-

Gary Houston Or emergency rooms staffed by interns on some kind of a rotational basis, which I think is the way it used to be done originally.

Stuart Gordon What we found was that the nurses really run it in the old school emergency room, and that's- we have in our play nurse Thor who is the, you know, the old vet who is used to running the emergency room, and now with the new specialty, ER specialty, then the ER docs are coming in and are taking over-

Studs Terkel There are- there are ER specialties?

Stuart Gordon That's brand new, yeah.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Emergency medicine.

Gary Houston Yeah, and I met doctors who felt the same way about- about the old system, as my character in the play does. In other words, he's very negative, contemptuous almost, towards moonlighting doctor, a guy whose specialty is something else and he thinks he can do emergency medicine. And- because he lacks- he lacks what emergency medicine is supposed to give you and resid- when you're going through medical school which is a full knowledge- a breadth of knowledge about medicine. And so my character is somewhat like a lot of real doctors who feel that way. That's a political aspect-

Studs Terkel Mmhmm.

Gary Houston -that's apparently a very- as a matter of fact, it has caused one performance at least, I remember when we had a good medical representation in the audience, nurses and doctors, there were cheers, one side of the audience with something I would say, then when the nurse would say something in response or when Richard's character, Dr. Scheinfeld, would say something there were cheers from that direction. There actually were cheers, it was a very polarizing kind of experience for some people when they went to see the show.

Richard Fire We get a lot of people in the profession who come and see the show, and you know they're out there because they respond totally differently than a civilian audience. They-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon There are jokes that they perceive as in-jokes.

Studs Terkel An- go- sorry, go

Richard Fire When we were in previews, there's a part of the show where someone's heart fails and he has to get the paddles on him in a CPR situation, and we were told that when that happens the body lifts up because of the shock. So, we come to the part in the play and we do what the body lifts up and there is a roar of laughter. We go, "oh my god, what did we do?" You know, I guess, you know, we made to think too funny or something. After that- in previews we talked to the audience. They said, "no no that was exactly the

Studs Terkel It was the laugh of recognition.

Gary Houston Exactly.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Mmhmm.

Studs Terkel Of course, they [were?] shocked with a laugh of

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon It was a nervous laughter too, because it's

Studs Terkel But it was also, you see, it was a compliment to ya, you see.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Mmhmm.

Studs Terkel 'Cause it was precisely the laugh-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Right on

Studs Terkel Just to parallel, years ago the play "Waiting for Lefty, a theater group in the 30s, [uninteelligble], a taxi cab drivers strike, and we played it before a taxi cab drivers audience in a union hall, actual, and there was a certain scene of the man and wife, and they roared and it was not funny.

[Unidentified Male] [Laughs]

Studs Terkel We thought it was a flop, and they came back later on, they roared because they recognized that scene. So that's what you're talking about.

Stuart Gordon

Studs Terkel Now, one of the most imaginative theaters in Chicago for a number of years now has been the Organic Theater, and way back you know, Stuart Gordon, the founding director of it and still directing it, and his colleagues, who write as well as direct. To explain that you may recall Bleacher Bums, that was so celebrated and so funny and so accurate, a number of members of the cast, including Stuart Gordon and his wife, you might say co-author, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, and two of his colleagues, Gary Houston and Richard Fire are around the microphone now, and they're part of a play called E/R Emergency Room. Emergency room, that is so much a part of Chicago's nightlife scene, particularly in hospitals where things happen. And what they did is the story of this discussion, this roundtable we'll have. E/R, which has received very enthusiastic reviews from critics as well as audiences, been running now for 6 months at the Organic Theater. And we'll get the address in a moment. And it's- it's a cooperative project, and 4 of the creative spirits and their- their colleagues too, are round and about, and it makes terribly exciting theater, and it's part of the tradition of Organic. It's organic. It certainly is. So in a moment my guests and E/R, after this message. [Pause in recording] Where do we begin? Stuart, when the group itself came to be, this was kind of the spirit of it, wasn't it? To create new work, yes. New- We're dedicated to exclusively new work. I'm thinking that some of the past works that have been- for which there was more [celebrated?], Warp, for one, Huck Finn- Right. -for another, what is the- how would you describe your- if there's a phrase or a way to describe your approach to theater? Well, I think we are always trying to- to excite and surprise. I think surprise is kind of a key word. To do plays that no one else would think about doing, and to create the plays that our audiences really want to see. We will do plays that are specifically about our audiences on many occasions, such as "Bleacher Bums," which was about, you know, the Chicago sports fans, "Cops," which is about the Chicago policemen, "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," which was about the swinging Rush Street scene. And so- That was one of the earliest of David Mamet plays, wasn't It was the very first- Very first, mmhmm. -professional production of his work, and E/R was- it seemed like a natural. A friend of mine, Dr. Ron Berman, came to me. He was working in an ER, and he came to me with all of these stories. You know, he'd sit around and we would just talk about some of the insane things that would happen to him. I couldn't believe that they were real. And eventually, he went so far as to just make a tape of all of the best stories and I played it for the company and the company was very excited about the idea. And so for about a year, we all began to go to emergency rooms as observers and to interview doctors and nurses to find out as much as possible about that scene. And you went there. Well, Carolyn, you- I know you've been with the company here in its very beginning. Carolyn Purdy-Gordon- Right. -and E/R, let's talk about E/R. This is the play now at the- by the way, the theater, it's a very good little sort of three-quarters round, on- what's the address again? It's 3319 North Clark. -19 North Clark. But E/R Emergency Room, that's a phrase used by, I suppose, doctors and nurses, isn't Right. Well, Ron Berman said if we had any interest in making his recollections into a play, that we, first of all, had to lock up the title E/R. He thought it was a natural and we've stuck with it ever since. Now we come to not simply being actors but being observers of the actual scene as well. Gary, of course, Gary's been an excellent journalist in town, has worked in the theater section, the [theater-book?] section Sun-Times for a number of years, and became an actor-director. So, now more than actors, you've, you four and I believe- There's an additional -several more of your colleagues did something else. What was that? Well, we got a skeletal idea of what we wanted to do, sort of a scenario, a rough idea of the sequence of cases that flow into the emergency room, sort of a "Grand Hotel" kind of play if you think of it that way. And then after that, each segment was committed to an improvisation. Just a few of us around a tape recorder enacting what we think the scene was supposed to be like given the characters, and given the expertise of Dr. Ron Berman who was with us. And after it was taped it was transcribed, after it was transcribed it was edited, after it was edited each segment was put together and it became a script. Richard Fire, you're one of the better actors in town- Thank you. -you're playing, you and Gary play the two doctors, young doctors who, early in your career are here in the emergency- that's where doctors are a lot, aren't they? Everybody goes through the emergency room, yes. Youngish doctors. He's the sincere one, and I'm sort of the- well, it's not really my full-time job, you know? I have a separate ENT practice, and I'm just moonlighting- ENT? Ear, nose, and throat. I'm just kind of moonlighting 'cause I need a little extra money. And this indeed reflect- Gary, on the other hand, plays a doc who is an ER specialist. This is a new specialty. It's about 10 years old. It's less than that, two years, actually. Well- It's emerging. Emerging. Okay. And his attitude as to how the shop should be run and my attitude about how the shop should be run come into conflict. That is the- that is one of the techs of, [is that right?], but throughout, something is happening that is suddenly reality. We watch it, the audience does [and says?], this is incredible because we know it's true. All the stories are Everyone's been to an emergency room, virtually, you know? So we're attracting people both who work in them and who have gone to them. Now, where did you go? Now, you 4 and 2 more of your colleagues- 4 more. There are 8 people together. 4 more, who are also in the cast- Right, in the company. They went- where did you go? Why don't you to describe the scene. We went to several emergency rooms, we went to Northwestern, we went to Illinois Masonic, Henrotin, Cook County. We really, I think- Grant. Grant. We checked- Evanston. -in Evanston. We checked about just about every emergency room in the city. So they came out- so the people there, at the emergency's, came out of neighborhoods, ethnic neighborhoods- Mmhmm. -Black, Latino, poor whites, Appalachians. We wanted to settle in an urban situation. Yeah. And it is true that the thing about the emergency room is so great that you get this total cross-section- Yeah. -of the population. Everybody from the very poor to the very rich comes into that emergency room at some point in the evening. So you- you- you watched the scene, you watched what was happening. When did you go? On Fri- Friday nights? We got to put on coats, you know, blue doctor coats, and follow- Oh! Lab coats [laughs]. -lab coats, and follow doctors around. I did a 6-hour shift. We all did, in various- I tell you the truth, I was so impressed with- you know, people criticize doctors for being arrogant or having attitudes, but especially in an emergency room situation, they're coming to you, it's life and death. You have to figure out what's wrong and then figure out how to treat it. And there's no, you know, you can't call in sick. I mean it's right there, you can't even take, you know, really, you can't take an hour off to think about it, you've got to deal with it right there. We didn't go in as a group. We went in in ones and twos, and then we'd just accomp- each one would accompany a doctor or a nurse and just kind of shadow them through their entire rounds. Ah, so you would- you were inconspicuous. Mmhmm. Oh, So, you had the white coats on, so they thought you were a part of the staff. Yes. The people came out- My initial experience, as a matter-of-fact, was- [Laughing] -with a drunk, which many are treated in emergency rooms, who grabbed me in this vice-like grip and said, "Doc, Doc, you got to help me, Doc! I want to kill!" [laughing]. I said, "you should talk to this man over here." [Wheezy laughing] I mean, what makes it so good, the performer- the production, is that you're doing- you're not simply studying a role from a script, you actually were there- Mmhmm. -and the role emerged because of your experience- Mmhmm. -being there. Yeah, you soak up a lot, it's like osmosis, and it was very valuable. As a matter of fact, I have to admit that the shifts that I visited, not much exciting happened during it. We didn't- I just happen to come into some pretty boring shifts, but the advantage of that was just to soak up the professional atmosphere, I guess. And before- pick up on something that Richard Fire said, you know, suddenly you realize how much work there is to be done. The doctors, the nurses. How, life and death, you know, overwhelms you so much [unintelligible]. Before that, did you say you use a tape recorder? Mmhmm. How is that? So- Those were to tape interviews where we- most of us knew at least one if not several doctors and nurses who have had emergency room experience. And so we invited them to come to the theater and one by one and we taped interviews with them at our theater, as well as doing this fieldwork. Yeah. We never took a tape recorder into the hospitals. But we also use a tapere- the way we actually get the scripts is after we do all this research and decide who's, you know, what is going to happen in the particular scene, we take parts in it and we improvise- And tape that. -and that's how we get the first- Yeah. -script. So, the impulse comes from the actual words? Mmhmm. Oh, definitely. And then you take off and improvise on that? For sure, and all of the stories that are portrayed in E/R, as crazy as some of them may be, are all true. Oh, yeah. Suppose we- because- let's pick up on something that Richard said a moment ago about the work, these are heroes and heroines, unsung heroes and heroines, the docs and the nurses and the attendants who were I don't know if I would go that far. I mean, I think that sometimes they are, that they are- heroics or called for many times. But what we try to show in E/R is that they're just people, that they are not- that they make mistakes, but they're not gods in white coats and that they're capable of having mistakes and judgment and [lighter flicking] all kinds of things, and being insensitive to the problems of the patients that come through there. We wanted to really give an accurate picture of the good and the bad side of the emergency room. They're very human heroes. They're heroes- Yeah. -but they're human beings. Well, I think about the overwhelming pressures, the stuff that comes in, and then we come back to the state of medicine, too without meaning to, it's a commentary on that. We could not- and that's one of those scenes, someone dies because the surgery crew could not be there on That's one of the factors, yeah. Although, I think it's also sort of implicit in the play that even if they had arrived, that the two men that we lost would be goners anyway because they were pretty far gone down the line. The save rate in life-threatening situations in an emergency room is less than 20%. The save rate- That's right. -is That's You mean four out of five go? That's right. Isn't that just situations where the heart stops beating- No. -and they have to do CPR? That's all life-threatening situations? Yeah, that's right. So it's that- so- because by the time they get in there it's pretty bad. Well it's, you know, it's when they do save somebody it is a very special- they write it down on a blackboard as a matter of fact in most emergency rooms, and give credit to the person who was responsible for it. But definitely the emergency room we're doing- we are doing is an understaffed emergency room- Although- -that could use more people there. -very few people are aware of the fact that most emergency rooms, unless it's a full trauma center, that there is not a surgical team on duty 24 hours, that the surgical team has to be called in and oftentimes will take at least an hour to get there. And what we wanted to show the, again, the reality of the emergency room situation in the majority of the emergency rooms. There was a tendency on- Gary, tell me if I'm wrong, but I think we wanted to glorify in a way, you know, we did this research and you see, really, them in the trenches and there's a real feeling of even though they're flawed that it is heroic. I have to say, I think Stuart has a tendency to play up the- their negative aspects of people practicing medicine. He may- he has his own emergency room story which he may or may tell you. [Laughter] And Dr. Ron Berman really mediated between us so that they aren't all good, they aren't all bad- Mmhmm. -so we try to strike a balanced position and the immediate change is how you have to go from something that's very serious and life-threatening, and the next person in right off the bat, it's funny, it's, you know. Of course, it's got the humor, the- the human comedy, it is sorta the theater, I say theater, I mean the actual place, you know, where human comedy takes place. Some stuff is hilarious, unfortunately so, but funny. It is a very funny play, and, I mean, the audience I think respond to it with more laughter than "Bleacher Bums" at times. I think part of that, though, is built into the emergency room situation, that the doctors and nurses that work there have to have a sense of humor to be able to get through it, and that they oftentimes will joke about things and one of the most common things we heard in the interviews was that they were constantly being reprimanded by the administration of the hospitals for laughing too much on duty. This is- you were going to say something, Carolyn? I was just going to say that I think that- that the other aspect that appeals to audiences about E/R that is unique, is that when you go to a real emergency room you, of course, ultimately, at some point or another are blocked out. The screen is drawn across and the patient is inside and you're outside, or the door is closed, or whatever. And this play, I think, appeals to people's- we're all a little voyeuristic and it, you know, it allows you to, you know, see behind the closed doors and the drawn screens and the, you know, closed drapes- Although some people have been led away because there was a little bit more than they could take- Mmhm. -and I'm simply speaking about a person who has [leaves?] on his chest, you know? There have been people who walked out, not because they disliked the show or anything, [laughs] but because they're getting squeamish already. But you see, it's a combination of all, you know. Stuart's pointing out that doctors get, nurses get pulled out sometimes for laughing. It's not that they're insensitive. No. It's the very nature- it is- the funny things sometimes that which verges on the tragic is funny. Mmhmm. And this is what Beckett writes about, this is what [unintelligible], the fact as it is, because life is goofy, you know, and therefore it's theater! And you see people behaving under the most bizarre conditions when they're in an emergency room, you know? It's a crisis situation, you know, they're at their- in an extreme situation. Like you have- well, perhaps- we've been talking about the play, possibly because because since Gary Houston and Richard Fire play the 2 doctors that might have a scene together, or the basis for it, we have that now. But here's some of the people who've come in. We'll start that. Immediately- well, really works on several levels, doesn't it? There's the receptionist [works there?]- It's intended to. -the tough nurse at work, who's solid. These two guys having a seemingly a feud between them and the beginning- Mmhmm. -a misunderstanding. In the meantime, the cases start piling in, so there are several things happening simultaneously. That's right. And eventually, it gets to the point where there's so much stuff coming in that nobody, no human beings could possibly deal with at all. And everybody gets called into service, including the receptionist who, one of the things we found it real interesting, has absolutely no medical training whatsoever. And oftentimes in an ER situation, it's the receptionist who makes the decision as to how serious someone is and how soon they should be treated. They have a thing called triage in which they have to make those kinds of decisions and they're oftentimes made by people who, you know, have less than a high school education. Well, that's a commentary on our country's health situation, medicine, isn't it? Yeah. Yeah, I think a lot of the- and I think a lot of the frightening aspects of the play must be about that, about how- and I know a lot of people have this fear of hospitals and doctors and nurses, mostly of just hospitals and institutions, as being where were competence and incompetence are 2 things hard to distinguish from one another after a while, and it causes a lot of anxiety in patients when they go into them. And I think we probably- it's good that we didn't try to dodge that question, that we went for it, too. A lot of the cases that come in aren't actual emergencies either. I mean a lot of them are- Yes. -people who are using the emergency room for other things even then medical help. I mean, there are regulars who come in, bag ladies who use the waiting room as a place to stay warm in the wintertime. Studs, what you said at the beginning about emergency rooms being part of our nightlife [laughs] is actually very true [laughs] for some people. It should be listed in the Tribune or So There's always a group of cops that are sitting there having coffee, I mean, it's a regular stop-off point. It's a stop-off point to get in out of the rain too, isn't it? Come in and be social. You see, you find some of these old boys on Michigan, in these stock brokerage houses watching the board. They don't have a [sept?], they sit there to keep warm, or in the public library reading room very often. That's right, this is another one those kind of places- And so here too the emergency room is that too, isn't it? I think it's a relief from loneliness for a lot of people, for just downright loneliness. There used to be a lady who- who had- this was a case that we heard about in California, this woman had- was on Medicare. And so all of her medical bills were taken care of. But she herself was- was fairly broke. She was an elderly woman who was on a pension, and she had a friend who lived right near the hospital. So when she wanted to go and visit with her friend she would play sick and call an ambulance which was paid for by Medicare. She would make a very, you know, perfunctory visit to the ER, and then go around the corner to visit with her lady friend. And it was much cheaper for her to do that than take a cab or a bus because the trip was paid for. People do abuse the institution, it's true. And also now, the fact that Americans are so mobile, people move around so much, that a lot of people don't have a regular family doctor so they use it as a clinic. Oh yeah. But I don't think- you don't mind me correctin' ya- that's an abuse of it. [Laughs] [Laughs] [Laughs] [Laughs] No, I think it's a use of it. I mean, it serves a purpose too- I tend to agree with you, but I don't know if ER personnel would see it No, well they do, the administrations now realize that the ER is a terrific moneymaker for a hospital, that about- It is? Yes, oh yeah. A lot of their revenue comes from ER traffic- It's the most expensive way to be treated too. I mean, it's something that we found out is that it's much more inexpensive to have a regular doctor and to be- or go to- go to a clinic than it is to go to ER, that it's- it's a terrific money-making thing, and that the new philosophy now from the hospital is just never turn anyone away. They used to be able to say, hey there's nothing wrong with you go home, but now they don't do that. You say it's a money-making- aren't many ER- do they charge people who come in an emergency? Oh my, yes. Sure, oh yeah. Gary- you know, exorbitant Shows you how naive I am. I thought in the emergency things, people come in and they're treated you know- For free? Yeah. [Laughs] Sorry. [Laughs] Studs. This is America. No, I thought- as a matter of fact, I thought so too, when- before I got into this. And I think it's become- it's because from childhood I don't think we really think of hospitals as corporations, do we? You We think of them as- I mean, we're not living in a welfare state, and yet when it comes to medicine we tend to still think we are. I think in a- You see, this is interesting. Gary and I, he had visited- the reason I [unintelligible] said I'm still thinking of a visit to London and to Stockholm, you see, Mmhmm. And, well, China Different story over there with socialized But I'm saying, this is what it is, you see. Life and death, and it's still the question. We know when you go into a hospital, of course, the first thing they ask is, "how's your credit" or- "Who's your insurance company?" Yeah, where's your insurance. We know that, but an emergency, you see, there it is- Well they will- they will treat an emergency situation, I mean we should say- They won't turn you away if you have an empty wallet. And a lot- and a lot of derelicts, you know, do come through the emergency rooms that are obviously unable to pay. But what they will do is they will shuffle them out of there as fast as they possibly can to the detox center, to the veteran's hospital, or some other state, you know, supported hospital. You know earlier, Stuart Gordon, the director, was saying the triage is [private?]. Why don't you talk a little- how is- triage, we know it comes out World War I in which doctors had to determine who's going to- who's going to be saved, who is not, who's gonna go, who's not gonna go. What we found is And -it wasn't- it isn't even a question it was going to be saved, that originally the triage idea was "who is most able to go back into the battle?" That's the first person that you treat, not the person who needs treatment for, you know- if there's someone who's really badly hurt, you will maybe overlook him to treat somebody who has a minor injury that can be sent back into the front. And in a sense, the triage works in a similar way in a hospital, that the- the idea is who- who needs the help, who has the most severe problem, who needs the help the quickest, and those decisions are oftentimes as I said, made by the receptionist when you walk in. And everyone knows, you know, has waiting stories, sitting in an emergency room waiting. And that's just considered to be a way of life. One of the emergency rooms that we went to had a sign up that said the minimum wait in this emergency room is 8 hours. The minimum is Yes, so that you should be preprepared to sit here for 8 hours to be treated. So, yeah, it's like a sitting. People become accustomed. Certainly, we know that welfare- people are on welfare. One of the things they become accustomed to is waiting. Being on line. Waiting. And so that's the emergency room too- When That was one of the things that struck us when we were in- excuse me- when we were on the job, was that you'd hear this constant moaning and groaning and people that were in pain going "Doc, Doc, help, help." And the doctors and nurses would ignore them. And after a while, you realized that it wasn't that they were being cruel, as much as it was that they would go nuts if they, every single time an individual moaned, they had to run over and find out what was wrong. You have to sort of, you know, like it- it becomes white noise that they can tune out. Mmhmm. When we were previewing the show we had a different opening. We had a child who had lacerated her chin and she needed stitches. Well, she was sitting there waiting because they didn't want to wake the one doctor who'd been working a 48-hour shift, so rather than do that, they knew that the other doctor was coming on, and they let them sit there for, you know, an extra half an hour. We subsequently cut the scene because we wanted to start the show a little quicker, but we tried to reflect- And it was- it was- it was interesting was with the actors when we were working on it said, "no, no, no doctor would let a child with a bleeding chin wait." And Dr. Berman said, "yes he would." He goes, "as long as it was not serious blood loss, you know, it's- stitching up the chin is not a big deal." And if there's, you know- the fact that the other doctor is on a 48-hour shift was another thing that- that flipped us out. You know, that there would be such a thing, that a doctor can work 48 hours straight in an emergency room, and that you know he can grab little bits and pieces and sleep here and there. But the idea that you're being treated by someone who hasn't slept in 2 days- Yeah. -is a little scary, I think. But it's, you know, again, it's it sort of goes back to the old school of emergency room, which is that it's just a way for moonlighting doctors to make extra dough. And if they need a little money that week they can come in and work their 48 hour shift- Or emergency rooms staffed by interns on some kind of a rotational basis, which I think is the way it used to be done originally. What we found was that the nurses really run it in the old school emergency room, and that's- we have in our play nurse Thor who is the, you know, the old vet who is used to running the emergency room, and now with the new specialty, ER specialty, then the ER docs are coming in and are taking over- There are- there are ER specialties? That's brand new, yeah. Emergency medicine. Yeah, and I met doctors who felt the same way about- about the old system, as my character in the play does. In other words, he's very negative, contemptuous almost, towards moonlighting doctor, a guy whose specialty is something else and he thinks he can do emergency medicine. And- because he lacks- he lacks what emergency medicine is supposed to give you and resid- when you're going through medical school which is a full knowledge- a breadth of knowledge about medicine. And so my character is somewhat like a lot of real doctors who feel that way. That's a political aspect- Mmhmm. -that's apparently a very- as a matter of fact, it has caused one performance at least, I remember when we had a good medical representation in the audience, nurses and doctors, there were cheers, one side of the audience with something I would say, then when the nurse would say something in response or when Richard's character, Dr. Scheinfeld, would say something there were cheers from that direction. There actually were cheers, it was a very polarizing kind of experience for some people when they went to see the show. We get a lot of people in the profession who come and see the show, and you know they're out there because they respond totally differently than a civilian audience. They- There are jokes that they perceive as in-jokes. An- go- sorry, go head. When we were in previews, there's a part of the show where someone's heart fails and he has to get the paddles on him in a CPR situation, and we were told that when that happens the body lifts up because of the shock. So, we come to the part in the play and we do what the body lifts up and there is a roar of laughter. We go, "oh my god, what did we do?" You know, I guess, you know, we made to think too funny or something. After that- in previews we talked to the audience. They said, "no no that was exactly the way-" It was the laugh of recognition. Exactly. Mmhmm. Of course, they [were?] shocked with a laugh of recognit- It was a nervous laughter too, because it's a But it was also, you see, it was a compliment to ya, you see. Mmhmm. 'Cause it was precisely the laugh- Right on the Just to parallel, years ago the play "Waiting for Lefty, a theater group in the 30s, [uninteelligble], a taxi cab drivers strike, and we played it before a taxi cab drivers audience in a union hall, actual, and there was a certain scene of the man and wife, and they roared and it was not funny. [Laughs] We thought it was a flop, and they came back later on, they roared because they recognized that scene. So that's what you're talking about. [Right] [Unintelliglbe] [Laughs] Sure. [Laughs] Right. Right. Right, [Laughs] [Laughs] [Laughs] Right.

Studs Terkel This comment that Gary made about the role he's playing, Gary Houston, Richard Fire's role is a fascinating one. So there is a political aspect to this, the two different kinds of doctors, and perhaps we can come to them and their scene, perhaps even act out a passage or two from it, and as we go along. Let's take a pause now just to remind the audience of a very exciting theater, the Organic Theater at-

Gary Houston 3319 North Clark.

Studs Terkel 3319 North Clark, and it's on-

Gary Houston Buckingham- Buckingham

Studs Terkel -nightly-

Gary Houston Yeah.

Studs Terkel -except Mondays-

Gary Houston And Tuesdays.

Studs Terkel Mondays and Tuesdays, nightly at 7-

Stuart Gordon 8 o'clock.

Studs Terkel At 8 o'clock. And they have two performances on-

Gary Houston Sunday.

Studs Terkel On Sunday.

Stuart Gordon Sunday matinee at 3:00.

Studs Terkel It's very exciting theater run I trust indefinitely, and we're with Stuart Gordon, director, co-author, Mary Purdy-Gordon, co-author-

Stuart Gordon Carolyn.

Studs Terkel Huh? Carolyn!

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon [Laughs]

Studs Terkel Mary Gordon is the novelist, the young Catholic novelist.

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Right. I wish I were her

Gary Houston [laughs]. [Laughs]

Richard Fire [Laughs]

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] you're a writer and-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon Give me some time.

Studs Terkel Gary Houston Richard Fire are- are 2 of the actors in it, key act- but also 2 of the authors. The others who took part with ya in the investigative work were- are-

Stuart Gordon Bruce Young, Zaid Farid-

Gary Houston Tom Towles.

Stuart Gordon Tom Towles, and-

Richard Fire Dr. Ron

Stuart Gordon Dr. Berman, right.

Studs Terkel Oh, and Dr. Berman. So there were 8 of you. Dr. Berman, then, was the guy you checked with.

Stuart Gordon Dr. Berman, in the improvisations, played all of the medical personnel-

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon At one point or another.

Stuart Gordon and he was- because we had no idea what the proper treatment would be in medical terms, so we pretty much improvised the patients. And Dr. Berman played all of the doctors and then in going back over the script the actors had another chance to kinda add more personality to the various, you know, docs and nurses.

Studs Terkel But of course what makes the theater exciting is that there's an authentic air to it, you know, that make it sound like it's too reportorial, but it isn't. That adds to the excitement, because [that means that?] life is pretty theatrical, itself.

Stuart Gordon Well, we've been, you know, reviewed now by the American Medical Association's newsletter-

Studs Terkel Mmhmm.

Stuart Gordon -and they gave it very high marks in terms of the realism of it, which we thought was real exciting because what we wanted to do was, we felt that doctors have really never been shown, you know, accurately onstage. You know, they always either glorify them or make them into Frankenstein's monster.

Studs Terkel Mmhmm.

Stuart Gordon And so, we really were trying to accurately portray the

Studs Terkel And, there was an attempt years ago, Sidney Kingsley, "Men in White."

Gary Houston Yeah.

Studs Terkel But it was- that was strictly, though, a plot drama, just touching-

Stuart Gordon We tried to stay away from the plot in this one.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Gary Houston You know, to avoid those cliches and those traps, I would recommend that other theater groups try to develop a show this way. Someone once said collaboration is where one man's shallowness meets another's, but running that risk, it still might be worthwhile if you're interested in the stock market or something that's esoteric to you. Get an expert for

Stuart Gordon So, you've done now, the third. The baseball bleachers guys, the "Bleacher Bums", "E/R", and "Cops".

Stuart Gordon Right.

Studs Terkel So- so it's the idea of theater and life, fusing, and we see it. Let's take a pause now with my 4 guests and resume, more reflections on "E/R", and perhaps a scene or 2, and reference to some of the episodes in it, and the crazy humor that's part of life after this message. [Pause in recording] And so resuming-

Stuart Gordon Alright.

Studs Terkel -with members of the Organic Theater, with Stuart Gordon, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, and Gary Houston, and Richard Fire. Now, there is this theme that runs through, these 2 guys, the 2 doctors, Gary, a certain kind of doctor, and Richard a certain kind of- you're moonlighting, you're the ER specialist. So it begins, you have a dim view of one another, does it not, as we see it?

Gary Houston Well, I certainly have a dim view of him because I've heard that he's sleeping right now, this is at the beginning of the show, he's sleeping right now. And I've worked three shifts with him before, but I've never met him, so I don't even know what he looks like. And- so, I have a professional prejudice against such a person. And, I don't know if he has a dim view of me because he doesn't even know me, and he doesn't- he doesn't understand why I'm so aggravated at

Studs Terkel And that's interesting, by the way, Richard, I think what Gary just said, he didn't know what you looked like for a time. There's an impersonal air, isn't that so? Because of the nature of the work, so much is happening at the same time these guys don't even know what the other guy looks like.

Stuart Gordon Although, I think the implication here is that this guy is a goof-off, pretty much-

Studs Terkel Right.

Stuart Gordon -that he's either out to lunch or he's at the men's room or he's somewhere else, that he's never around when you need him and that the first maybe 20 or 25 minutes of the play, Sheinfeld is off stage sleeping, and Sherman really has to deal with everything that comes through.

Richard Fire In defense of my character, though-

Stuart Gordon [Laughs]

Carolyn Purdy-Gordon

Richard Fire [Laughs] -let me say the nurse, the head nurse, on duty at the time who has worked with me before defends me, and say, "he always comes through in the clutch. I can always count on him, it's just, he sort of [lighter flicking] has a little different attitude."

Gary Houston Well, that's not a defense, that's a character witness.

Stuart Gordon

Richard Fire Now, one of the most imaginative theaters in Chicago for a number of years now has been the Organic Theater, and way back you know, Stuart Gordon, the founding director of it and still directing it, and his colleagues, who write as well as direct. To explain that you may recall Bleacher Bums, that was so celebrated and so funny and so accurate, a number of members of the cast, including Stuart Gordon and his wife, you might say co-author, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, and two of his colleagues, Gary Houston and Richard Fire are around the microphone now, and they're part of a play called E/R Emergency Room. Emergency room, that is so much a part of Chicago's nightlife scene, particularly in hospitals where things happen. And what they did is the story of this discussion, this roundtable we'll have. E/R, which has received very enthusiastic reviews from critics as well as audiences, been running now for 6 months at the Organic Theater. And we'll get the address in a moment. And it's- it's a cooperative project, and 4 of the creative spirits and their- their colleagues too, are round and about, and it makes terribly exciting theater, and it's part of the tradition of Organic. It's organic. It certainly is. So in a moment my guests and E/R, after this message. [Pause in recording] Where do we begin? Stuart, when the group itself came to be, this was kind of the spirit of it, wasn't it? To create new work, yes. New- We're dedicated to exclusively new work. I'm thinking that some of the past works that have been- for which there was more [celebrated?], Warp, for one, Huck Finn- Right. -for another, what is the- how would you describe your- if there's a phrase or a way to describe your approach to theater? Well, I think we are always trying to- to excite and surprise. I think surprise is kind of a key word. To do plays that no one else would think about doing, and to create the plays that our audiences really want to see. We will do plays that are specifically about our audiences on many occasions, such as "Bleacher Bums," which was about, you know, the Chicago sports fans, "Cops," which is about the Chicago policemen, "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," which was about the swinging Rush Street scene. And so- That was one of the earliest of David Mamet plays, wasn't It was the very first- Very first, mmhmm. -professional production of his work, and E/R was- it seemed like a natural. A friend of mine, Dr. Ron Berman, came to me. He was working in an ER, and he came to me with all of these stories. You know, he'd sit around and we would just talk about some of the insane things that would happen to him. I couldn't believe that they were real. And eventually, he went so far as to just make a tape of all of the best stories and I played it for the company and the company was very excited about the idea. And so for about a year, we all began to go to emergency rooms as observers and to interview doctors and nurses to find out as much as possible about that scene. And you went there. Well, Carolyn, you- I know you've been with the company here in its very beginning. Carolyn Purdy-Gordon- Right. -and E/R, let's talk about E/R. This is the play now at the- by the way, the theater, it's a very good little sort of three-quarters round, on- what's the address again? It's 3319 North Clark. -19 North Clark. But E/R Emergency Room, that's a phrase used by, I suppose, doctors and nurses, isn't Right. Well, Ron Berman said if we had any interest in making his recollections into a play, that we, first of all, had to lock up the title E/R. He thought it was a natural and we've stuck with it ever since. Now we come to not simply being actors but being observers of the actual scene as well. Gary, of course, Gary's been an excellent journalist in town, has worked in the theater section, the [theater-book?] section Sun-Times for a number of years, and became an actor-director. So, now more than actors, you've, you four and I believe- There's an additional -several more of your colleagues did something else. What was that? Well, we got a skeletal idea of what we wanted to do, sort of a scenario, a rough idea of the sequence of cases that flow into the emergency room, sort of a "Grand Hotel" kind of play if you think of it that way. And then after that, each segment was committed to an improvisation. Just a few of us around a tape recorder enacting what we think the scene was supposed to be like given the characters, and given the expertise of Dr. Ron Berman who was with us. And after it was taped it was transcribed, after it was transcribed it was edited, after it was edited each segment was put together and it became a script. Richard Fire, you're one of the better actors in town- Thank you. -you're playing, you and Gary play the two doctors, young doctors who, early in your career are here in the emergency- that's where doctors are a lot, aren't they? Everybody goes through the emergency room, yes. Youngish doctors. He's the sincere one, and I'm sort of the- well, it's not really my full-time job, you know? I have a separate ENT practice, and I'm just moonlighting- ENT? Ear, nose, and throat. I'm just kind of moonlighting 'cause I need a little extra money. And this indeed reflect- Gary, on the other hand, plays a doc who is an ER specialist. This is a new specialty. It's about 10 years old. It's less than that, two years, actually. Well- It's emerging. Emerging. Okay. And his attitude as to how the shop should be run and my attitude about how the shop should be run come into conflict. That is the- that is one of the techs of, [is that right?], but throughout, something is happening that is suddenly reality. We watch it, the audience does [and says?], this is incredible because we know it's true. All the stories are Everyone's been to an emergency room, virtually, you know? So we're attracting people both who work in them and who have gone to them. Now, where did you go? Now, you 4 and 2 more of your colleagues- 4 more. There are 8 people together. 4 more, who are also in the cast- Right, in the company. They went- where did you go? Why don't you to describe the scene. We went to several emergency rooms, we went to Northwestern, we went to Illinois Masonic, Henrotin, Cook County. We really, I think- Grant. Grant. We checked- Evanston. -in Evanston. We checked about just about every emergency room in the city. So they came out- so the people there, at the emergency's, came out of neighborhoods, ethnic neighborhoods- Mmhmm. -Black, Latino, poor whites, Appalachians. We wanted to settle in an urban situation. Yeah. And it is true that the thing about the emergency room is so great that you get this total cross-section- Yeah. -of the population. Everybody from the very poor to the very rich comes into that emergency room at some point in the evening. So you- you- you watched the scene, you watched what was happening. When did you go? On Fri- Friday nights? We got to put on coats, you know, blue doctor coats, and follow- Oh! Lab coats [laughs]. -lab coats, and follow doctors around. I did a 6-hour shift. We all did, in various- I tell you the truth, I was so impressed with- you know, people criticize doctors for being arrogant or having attitudes, but especially in an emergency room situation, they're coming to you, it's life and death. You have to figure out what's wrong and then figure out how to treat it. And there's no, you know, you can't call in sick. I mean it's right there, you can't even take, you know, really, you can't take an hour off to think about it, you've got to deal with it right there. We didn't go in as a group. We went in in ones and twos, and then we'd just accomp- each one would accompany a doctor or a nurse and just kind of shadow them through their entire rounds. Ah, so you would- you were inconspicuous. Mmhmm. Oh, So, you had the white coats on, so they thought you were a part of the staff. Yes. The people came out- My initial experience, as a matter-of-fact, was- [Laughing] -with a drunk, which many are treated in emergency rooms, who grabbed me in this vice-like grip and said, "Doc, Doc, you got to help me, Doc! I want to kill!" [laughing]. I said, "you should talk to this man over here." [Wheezy laughing] I mean, what makes it so good, the performer- the production, is that you're doing- you're not simply studying a role from a script, you actually were there- Mmhmm. -and the role emerged because of your experience- Mmhmm. -being there. Yeah, you soak up a lot, it's like osmosis, and it was very valuable. As a matter of fact, I have to admit that the shifts that I visited, not much exciting happened during it. We didn't- I just happen to come into some pretty boring shifts, but the advantage of that was just to soak up the professional atmosphere, I guess. And before- pick up on something that Richard Fire said, you know, suddenly you realize how much work there is to be done. The doctors, the nurses. How, life and death, you know, overwhelms you so much [unintelligible]. Before that, did you say you use a tape recorder? Mmhmm. How is that? So- Those were to tape interviews where we- most of us knew at least one if not several doctors and nurses who have had emergency room experience. And so we invited them to come to the theater and one by one and we taped interviews with them at our theater, as well as doing this fieldwork. Yeah. We never took a tape recorder into the hospitals. But we also use a tapere- the way we actually get the scripts is after we do all this research and decide who's, you know, what is going to happen in the particular scene, we take parts in it and we improvise- And tape that. -and that's how we get the first- Yeah. -script. So, the impulse comes from the actual words? Mmhmm. Oh, definitely. And then you take off and improvise on that? For sure, and all of the stories that are portrayed in E/R, as crazy as some of them may be, are all true. Oh, yeah. Suppose we- because- let's pick up on something that Richard said a moment ago about the work, these are heroes and heroines, unsung heroes and heroines, the docs and the nurses and the attendants who were I don't know if I would go that far. I mean, I think that sometimes they are, that they are- heroics or called for many times. But what we try to show in E/R is that they're just people, that they are not- that they make mistakes, but they're not gods in white coats and that they're capable of having mistakes and judgment and [lighter flicking] all kinds of things, and being insensitive to the problems of the patients that come through there. We wanted to really give an accurate picture of the good and the bad side of the emergency room. They're very human heroes. They're heroes- Yeah. -but they're human beings. Well, I think about the overwhelming pressures, the stuff that comes in, and then we come back to the state of medicine, too without meaning to, it's a commentary on that. We could not- and that's one of those scenes, someone dies because the surgery crew could not be there on That's one of the factors, yeah. Although, I think it's also sort of implicit in the play that even if they had arrived, that the two men that we lost would be goners anyway because they were pretty far gone down the line. The save rate in life-threatening situations in an emergency room is less than 20%. The save rate- That's right. -is That's You mean four out of five go? That's right. Isn't that just situations where the heart stops beating- No. -and they have to do CPR? That's all life-threatening situations? Yeah, that's right. So it's that- so- because by the time they get in there it's pretty bad. Well it's, you know, it's when they do save somebody it is a very special- they write it down on a blackboard as a matter of fact in most emergency rooms, and give credit to the person who was responsible for it. But definitely the emergency room we're doing- we are doing is an understaffed emergency room- Although- -that could use more people there. -very few people are aware of the fact that most emergency rooms, unless it's a full trauma center, that there is not a surgical team on duty 24 hours, that the surgical team has to be called in and oftentimes will take at least an hour to get there. And what we wanted to show the, again, the reality of the emergency room situation in the majority of the emergency rooms. There was a tendency on- Gary, tell me if I'm wrong, but I think we wanted to glorify in a way, you know, we did this research and you see, really, them in the trenches and there's a real feeling of even though they're flawed that it is heroic. I have to say, I think Stuart has a tendency to play up the- their negative aspects of people practicing medicine. He may- he has his own emergency room story which he may or may tell you. [Laughter] And Dr. Ron Berman really mediated between us so that they aren't all good, they aren't all bad- Mmhmm. -so we try to strike a balanced position and the immediate change is how you have to go from something that's very serious and life-threatening, and the next person in right off the bat, it's funny, it's, you know. Of course, it's got the humor, the- the human comedy, it