Times Square is the Promised Land for performing artists. This cultural capital is home to over 41 Broadway theaters, hordes of furry Elmos, and countless big dreamers. Now you can also find a new health clinic there that caters to what it says are the unique and essential needs of these performing artists. Rebecca Scott reports.
SCOTT: Like most health clinics, the Samuel J. Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts is big and sterile. Unlike most, the walls are lined with portraits of dancers, musicians, and Broadway stars – a reflection of the very people they serve. People like Broadway playwright David Heins.
Heins: Essentially we get paid royalties and we’re not working down here, we’re just down here.
Marinaro: So that will complicate things.
SCOTT: Today, Heins is getting a tour from Renata Marinaro. She’s Director of Health Services. Because of his unpredictable income, Heins is concerned about his insurance status. Marinaro’s job is to help him solve that problem – a common one for performing artists. And she’s also not surprised by Heins’ next question.
Heinz: And social workers? Counselors?
Marinaro: All around you! Everywhere!
Heinz: I feel very comforted.
SCOTT: This is one issue Marinaro says the clinic specializes in – mental illness. Rates of mental illness – particularly anxiety and depression – tend to be higher in artistic communities. That’s why the clinic’s doctors are trained to pay attention to these symptoms.
Marinaro: Just the other day we had somebody come in who was having a bit of a life crisis. And unlike a regular clinic where that might go unnoticed, it doesn’t go unnoticed here.
SCOTT: The patient was treated for the physical ailment she had come in for– and matched with a social worker. Dr. Bronwen Ackermann is the editor-in-chief of Medical Problems of Performing Artists. She’s been treating performing artists for years and says they face unique challenges on the job. Sometimes, very unique challenges.
Ackermann: I had one actor who was coming in who was being hung upside down and whipped while he was giving his soliloquies.
SCOTT: She couldn’t tell him to stop hanging upside while reciting soliloquies – his income depended on it. So, she treated him for his lower back pain – and showed him how to safely pull off the trick for his next performance. This kind of injury is highly specific but even common injuries have to be treated differently in a performing artist. For example, when someone breaks an arm, most are considered healed when they can rotate it comfortably.
Ackermann: But if you play the violin for the New York Phil or something like that, that’s not going to be enough because they have to rotate their arm around to a very extreme range.
SCOTT: Ackermann says enthusiasm for performing arts medicine is growing among medical students. The American College of Sports Medicine recently created a program called Athletes in the Arts dedicated to training the next generation of performing arts medical specialists. But despite this growth, many health clinics like the Friedman Center fail. Dr. Richard Lederman is one of the editors of the textbook Performing Arts Medicine. He’s been in the industry since the 70s and has seen the opening of several clinics dedicated to performing artists.
Lederman: I have a whole list of such places and I know that they have not been able to continue functioning.
SCOTT: Lederman says this is partly because performing artists are less likely to have health insurance – but it’s also because it’s not an easy cause to raise money for.
Lederman: If you ask people are performing artists important, I’m sure most would say yes but they’re not viewed as being in need.
SCOTT: Lederman says despite the high rate of failure, if a health center for performing artists can succeed anywhere, it’s in the cultural capital of the world – New York City. Back at the brand new Friedman Health Center, Marinaro, the Director of Health Services, is optimistic about the future. For now, she’s focused on meeting the unique health needs of her clients. Even the ones that don’t happen on the job.
Marinaro: I had a stuntman who had a boot on his leg and I asked him oh this must be a side effect of your job, right? And he said no actually I slipped on a wet spot in my kitchen and I broke my ankle.
SCOTT: Marinaro says if people believe the arts is crucial to the health of society, then the health of those who create it should be considered just as important. Rebecca Scott, Columbia Radio News.