Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: The play, Chemo Barbie, is currently appearing as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. What inspired you to tell this story, and how would you describe your creative process in bringing it to life?
Heather Keller: Chemo Barbie is my personal story about my cancer treatment for breast cancer. During treatment, I chronicled my journey via hand written and computer journal entries, Caringbridge (an online medical blog for family and friends), and my YouTube Video Blog called “Keep Abreast with Heather.” From this and text messages and emails, I wrote the solo play.
When you’re going through treatment, so much happens that people don’t know about until you're in the thick of it. I wanted to tell this side of it, the patient side. So many people don’t get to live to do this. I’m lucky I can.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
HK: I hope audiences are inspired. I also want them to see what it’s like for the patient. I had friends who really stepped up to the plate while others disappeared and sent me inconsiderate text messages, which when you’re going through treatment makes things even worse. Mostly though, my story is about hope and love. I didn’t realize until after my first performance that my show is a love story between my husband and I. I kept my hair during treatment by Cold Capping. It’s a process where you wear a very cold cap between -25 & -40 degrees. It freezes your hair follicles not allowing the chemo to get in. I kept all my hair. This process is extremely time consuming. My husband was in charge of it. He’d prep the caps the night before, picking up the dry ice and filling each cap. Cancer removes all control we feel over our lives. Cold Capping became his “thing,” giving him a sense of control over something. We got closer as a couple, which doesn’t always happen. It also brought out beautiful sides of my friends and family. We are bonded in a way that is truly wonderful.
BD: Given that the performance is a one-woman show, how do you balance the workload of the production, and do you feel that the various roles enhance your creative process?
HK: I play over 21 characters in this show. It’s a lot of work to write, act, and produce your own show. I’m really loving every minute of it. It’s better than being in a chemotherapy / Immunotherapy infusion chair. I run the show several times and I do speed throughs and character work. I’ll work a character out of its element to help develop it and find tiny nuances within each one. Producing wise though, I hit the pavement. I go to the events thrown by Fringe and attend other Fringe shows. I saw 25 shows while producing and being in my own.
BD: What makes the Hollywood Fringe Festival an ideal venue for Chemo Barbie?
HK: It’s a great community. It’s been an incredibly positive experiences. Jessica Lynn Johnson who created “Soaring Solo” is an amazing director. She is sweet and positive and truly a creative genius. She instills a sense of positive supportive community within her Soaring Solo Artists, and it filters into everyone’s artistry. Fringe has a great community of people who are in it for the work, and everyone is tremendously talented. It’s a “safe space” filled with talented, kind people. I have met so many kind people in the last two years through my cancer treatments. Cancer has a way of filtering out the negative and destructive people that may have been in our lives. As I say in my show, “Cancer and friendships. It’s kind of like squeezing an orange. What comes out of a person shows their true self. The assholes fall by the wayside, while the others line up with encouragement.” I had a tremendous amount of supportive family and friends and a dream team of doctors and nurses. I chose to focus on those types of positive, supportive folks. Fringe has lots of them, too, and it is the perfect way to leave the hardest parts of treatment. It’s been very cathartic.
BD: The show will be appearing at the Asylum Theatre (Studio C) through June 24, 2017. Are there any future plans to perform the show at other venues?
HK: I just received an Encore Producers Award which means my show was chosen to extend at Studio C! I’m elated! The next performance there will be July 8th at 5:30 p.m.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects that you would care to share with our readers?
HK: I have an online show called “Hidden Gyms” that is part of the LIVE TV online network, Bidchat. It’s a show where I find cool running/hiking trails and locations and bring the audience along via my camera. People can call in and chat with me and all proceeds go to charity. Mine is cancer research. In addition, I have a YouTube channel chronicling my journey with breast cancer called Keep Abreast with Heather. People can see how I cold capped, went through radiation, chemo, immunotherapy, and now Tamoxifen all the while trying to live my life as “normal” as possible.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for Chemo Barbie?
HK: They can follow me on Instagram at ChemoBarbieShow or on Twitter at ChemoBarbieshow. I’m also looking to move the show to different theatre festivals and venues. I have one right now that is a fundraiser for Theatre West on September 2nd and 3rd. I’d also like to bring the show to colleges and health organizations. They can contact me at heatherannkeller (at) gmail (dot) com Tickets can be purchased here.