An actor with Tourette Syndrome takes to the School of Medicine stage
Exploring the stigma and stereotypes of living with Tourette Syndrome (TS) is the focus of a highly acclaimed, one-man show called “The Elephant in Every Room I Enter”—a performance recently featured at the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine on Thursday, April 7, courtesy of the Osler Society of the School of Medicine and the Northwell Health department of psychiatry.
Through an erratic and energetic performance style, actor Gardiner Comfort (photo above) candidly offers up his own experience and that of others coping with TS by sharing honest and often humorous anecdotes associated with the neurological condition. The unique presentation, directed by co-creator Kel Haney, played to an audience of over 150 people from the School of Medicine, Northwell Health, Hofstra University, and members of the TS community.
“Tourette Syndrome is such a complex disorder, with so many impacts on an individual’s life, and on their family’s lives, as well,” said Lisa Filippi, PhD, associate professor of biology at Hofstra University and vice chair of the Long Island Tourette Association. “Even if only one individual has the actual disorder, it is a family condition, and there is no getting around that.”
An often misunderstood neurological condition, TS is characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. The disorder is named for Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette, the pioneering French neurologist who in 1885 first described the ailment in an 86-year-old French noblewoman.
Comfort was diagnosed with TS when he was seven years old, yet much of the play centers on his experiences at the first World Congress on Tourette Syndrome and Tic Disorders in Washington, DC, held in 2015. Throughout the show, Comfort portrays various characters he encounters over the week-long meeting, from a flamboyant young actor to a Southern dad accompanying his son. Comfort further shows off his versatility by channeling a myriad of individual intonations and tics he experienced at the conference, such as howling and bear hugging.
Following Comfort’s real and riveting performance, a discussion panel made up of National Tourette Center of Excellence experts as well as six TS patients ages 14 to 28, also Youth Ambassadors for the Tourette Association, spoke candidly about their tics and the impact of the disorder in society, relationships, and all parts of life.
“I found it particularly touching, inspirational, and insightful to hear from patients as part of the panel discussion,” said Matthew Shore of Northwell Health. “I was blown away by the leadership character of the panelists—they all have serious talent, I’m glad it is getting utilized and developed through their work with the Youth Ambassador Program.”
Special thanks to the National Tourette Center of Excellence, Tourette Association of America (Long Island Chapter), Northwell Health department of psychiatry, Hofstra University departments of psychology, biology, physics and astronomy for your collaboration with this highly informative presentation at the School of Medicine.
For more about Osler Society programs and events, please visit www.medicine.hofstra.edu/about/osler.