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  • Writer's pictureSue Schleifer

Theater, The Brain, and Empathy

What do theater, the brain, and empathy have to do with one another? You’ll find out when you watch Josh Kornbluth’s latest one-person show on You Tube entitled, “Citizen Brain.” When you finish reading this newsletter, I encourage you to go to the Shotgun Players website (see below) to watch one of the final performances, November 6-8. Then you may thank me.

When I lived in the Bay Area I saw a few of Kornbluth’s performances. Because of that, I feel like he is a comrade, a friend. So I feel at liberty to call him by his first name. Josh tells us stories about his own life and his experiences. He shares observations into his thought processes, what he is learning, and the ideas that spring forth from his insights. We see the connections that he is making and in turn we feel connected to him. He does all this with a blend of humor and earnestness.

Watching last night’s performance was just what I needed during this time of tumult. I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one feeling concerned (okay, anxious) about the election on top of the stresses of the pandemic. My brain’s circuits are firing, and I am trying to practice empathy to strengthen my empathy circuit. I have also started to write my new play. Lots going on in my brain and body right now.

In “Citizen Brain” Josh shares his discoveries as a fellow at the Global Brain Health Institute and how he is applying the research to help his own family. Then he wonders if our society is suffering from political dementia and whether he might help everyone to employ the empathy circuit in their brains in order to bridge the empathy gap. It’s a funny and thought-provoking performance and call to action.

At the conclusion of each performance, Josh brings in a neuroscientist for a short discussion about the themes in the play. As luck would have it, last night his guest was Dr. Richard Davidson, and they explored the relationship between empathy and compassion. Davidson suggested that empathy is a precursor to compassion, and compassion compels us to act in a skillful way when action is required. He shared that we can learn how to practice and develop compassion and the skill of well-being by reorganizing our brain circuitry.

This work will help us to create a post pandemic world that will reduce suffering and save humanity. These are big goals and what better time to start practicing than now.

And that is how Josh might just be planting the seeds of a revolution of empathy and compassion. Let’s do this together.


To buy a ticket to watch “Citizen Brain” visit Shotgun Players.

To watch short videos that Josh has created as a fellow at the Global Brain Health Institute, check out Citizen Brain with Josh Kornbluth.

To learn more about Richard Davidson’s work, visit healthy minds innovations where you may read about the Healthy Minds Program app that helps us to build the skills for a healthier mind.


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