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A New Venue for Healing: Out of the Hospital and Onto the Stage

The HealingLater this week, a cast of 15 local actors and actresses willtake to the stage at The Playground @ The Adrienne Theater in Center City toshare a story of one woman’s journey through life, and cancer. The Healing, billed as “a story of love,fame, hurt, and healing”, was written by Ontaria Wilson, physician secretary inthe department of Radiation Oncology, based on her own experiences workingdirectly with Radiation Oncology physicians and patients living “through” – not“with,” Wilson notes – cancer treatment.

The play tells the story of a woman in her 30s who isworking as an up-and-coming actress when she is diagnosed with cancer. Wilsonsays inspiration for the story came from watching the “organic chemistry” shewitnesses between patients and their clinical care teams on a daily basis. Focusingmainly on patient interactions with care teams, Wilson says everything in theshow was born of a personal experience – either with a patient at Penn Medicineor as part of her father’s support system when he went through chemotherapy afterbeing diagnosed with leukemia in 2006. The main character is loosely based on aformer Penn Medicine patient with whom Wilson formed a bond, but Wilson saysshe hopes audiences will take from the play something much bigger than just thestory of a woman living through cancer.

Ontari Wilson_head shot“Healing doesn’t just mean physically getting better.Healing comes through community and love,”Wilson said. “I want people to knowthat whatever their role is – whether they are a cancer patient, survivor, orpart of a patient’s support system – they are not alone. I want everyone whosees this story to believe there is a healing that comes with the journey ofliving through cancer. Most people see healing as physical, but it’s so muchmore than that; it’s mental, spiritual and emotional.”

 The Healing is alabor of love that started as a poem more than two years ago. Though new toplay-writing, Wilson is a veteran poet who started writing in fourth grade andin previous years performed at poetry readings. As her poem grew, Wilsonnoticed characters starting to take shape and decided the story would be betterserved as a stage production. In early 2012, Wilson made a promise to God thatshe would finish the play by the end of the year. In living out her dream,Wilson says she is able to satisfy both her personal and professional lives. 

“Choreography and the arts are my other life. I’ve been atPenn Medicine for over six years, but I have this other part of me that lovesart, and dance and performing,” she said. “In writing The Healing, what I realized is that while choreography and thearts are my passion, my true calling is humanity and helping people, and that’swhat I get to do every day.”

With two major dance numbers throughout the performance, The Healing depicts cancer patients assoldiers. Wilson says the production is her way of giving back to people whatthey pour out as they go through cancer themselves, or with someone.

“For people who are trying to make sense out of what happensduring treatment, or why this happens to their loved ones, they can use thearts to help,” she said. “Working with the patients, I know their personalstories and I see the toll this takes. At the same time, working with thedoctors, I see their love for their patients and the work that they do. It canbe emotionally draining, but forming these bonds with patients is wortheverything.”

Wilson says her goal in telling her main character’s storyis to focus on living through cancer, living with purpose, and helping peopleto understand how to live through the journey.

Performances of TheHealing will take place on Thursday, January 10, at 7pm and Friday, January11, at 2pm. The Playground @ The Adrienne is located at 2030 Sansom Street,Philadelphia. Tickets are $20. To purchase tickets, please visit or contactOntaria Wilson at


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