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First Person: Eric Barr fights back against his stroke with theater

by Andrea Bernstein | First Person

First Person: Eric Barr fights back against his stroke with theater
Eric Barr, a former UC Riverside theater professor, is the writer and performer of a one-man show about his battle to recover from a series of strokes. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Eric Barr was a theater professor at the University of California Riverside, until a series of strokes in 2013 forced him into retirement. 

When I had the first stroke I was in the bathroom," recalls Barr. "I noticed that there was an arm waving around in the bathroom, and...I realized it was my arm." He later learned that mysterious movement is called "alien hand syndrome" - "just like the character of Dr. Strangelove in the movie" of the same name.

"Right after the stroke," Barr says he decided to write and perform a one-man show about his experience. He decided to call it, "A Piece of My Mind: A Stroke Survivor's Tale." Since "I'd lost a piece of mind...I thought that was a good title for a show," he adds.  He says people got excited as he would tell them about it, "and then it became clear to me that this really does need to be shared. Other people need to hear this."

Barr performed his show at the Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica on Jan. 9 and 10. He would like to take it on the road to perform at hospitals, medical schools and rehabilitation centers. He believes he could teach doctors and future doctors something about what's going on in the minds of stroke victims, and he would like to show victims of stroke and other brain trauma that they are not alone.

"Since my illness people see me as someone with handicaps," says Barr. "But when I'm on stage I'm sort of free to interact with the audience and be myself again, just be healthy again, and just perform. And as I've told my students, when you get on stage you're never sick - that's how it feels."

Another goal of Barr's: produce a documentary or make a reality TV show based on his experiences. 

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