UCF theater program takes children’s hospital patients on a trip through the looking glass

Jeanette M. Gould Fund helps bring the magic of theatre to kids in the hospital

ORLANDO, Fla. – Characters like The Mad Hatter and Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” are taking patients at Nemours Children’s Health on an interactive scavenger hunt as part of a traveling theater program through the University of Central Florida.

The program, dubbed The Jeanette M. Gould Traveling Theater Fund, was made possible by Bruce and Jeffery Gould. The program is named after their mother, who has a love for theater and is a longtime supporter of the nursing profession.

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UCF Associate Professor Elizabeth Horn said she is grateful for the opportunity to bring the magic of theater to children in the hospital.

“They don’t get the chance to go and see theater,” Horn said. “For many of them, they’re having extended stays at the hospital, and we really know what the power of theater can do to bring joy, to bring laughter, to bring a sense of belonging and a sense of community. Even just that distraction aspect, a bit of escapism, spending time in their imaginations making believe, that really has a healing power. We believe in that.”

The traveling theater program is a partnership between the College of Arts and Humanities and the College of Nursing. Department Chair for the College of Nursing Azizeh Sowan said bringing the arts to kids in the hospital will have a positive impact on their care.

“It’s going to provide them a patient-centered care, it’s going to decrease that stress level, and it’s going to give them a chance to do something fun, which is extremely important for their mental health,” Sowan said.

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Students involved in the traveling theater program said they love it because it combines their passion for performing arts and the ability to give back to the community.

“This program has been incredibly rewarding to see the fruits of our labor be able to kind of live inside of these hospital spaces where we usually don’t see theater or we imagine it as a very clean, sanitized space, and we were interested in coming into that space and making a little bit of a mess,” UCF Graduate Student and Education Coordinator Julia Veiga said.

Some said they experienced personal growth by participating.

“It was a really fulfilling experience to be able to get outside of myself for a little bit and just, you know, just bring joy to people who don’t necessarily have a lot,” UCF undergraduate student JennahKay Dantzler said.

Others said they can’t wait to get started.

“I just read our newest version of the script that we have and we’re going to play and it’s going to be the best time,” UCF graduate student and project director Gabby Lawlor said.

Beginning in Spring 2023, the program will expand to include more in-person visits with both theater and nursing students participating in the performances. Horn said they also plan to visit Arnold Palmer, AdventHealth and Nemours.

To learn more about the Jeanette M. Gould Traveling theater Fund and how you can support the fund, click here.

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Emily joined WKMG-TV in November 2022.