When the brother traveled to Italy to bolster his sister after she was hospitalized with a stroke, it seemed inconceivable that they’d soon both be battling cancer. But that’s exactly what happened to Mikael Rudolph.
Physically active and outwardly healthy, Rudolph was diagnosed with rectal cancer in January 2008, just three months after his sister, Kristi, a yoga and dance teacher, fell ill with pancreatic cancer. The stroke was brought on by the cancer. Rudolph spent much of last year enduring surgery, radiation and along with his sister, chemotherapy. Today, Rudolph is the picture of health.
Rudolph, who lives in Minneapolis, is known as a “Mikael the Mime” locally and in theaters across the country. He’s also an actor, social justice activist, and teacher at Circus Juventas, a performing arts school for youths in St. Paul. He’s also ratcheted up his writing, and the play he just finished about his cancer experience debuts (or “de butts” he says, keeping to the theme) on February 27.
“Cancer My Ass!” is part of this year’s Spirit in the House Festival offerings. While there’s a general tendency to shy away from public discussion of our personal tragedies, Rudolph has always lived his life out loud. “That’s who I am. I always process my own issues and problems through friends. I don’t isolate.”
Material for the 50-minute play is the juice squeezed from more than 1,200 entries he made on an Internet discussion group. He informed family and friends en masse of the incidents and impressions that took place during his sister’s surgery and stay in an Italian hospital, her treatment in an Oregon hospital, and his own medical crisis and recovery in Minnesota. The dual cancer journey brought Mikael and Kristi closer.
Although Kristi lost her battle, Mikael says her last year of life, though full of trials, was also full of discovery and transformation. “Her heart opened,” he says, and she filled her life with new adventures.
Health care is free in Italy, Randolph reminds, so expect a few jabs at the American system of health care. The play’s subject matter is intimate, honest and tragic, with a strong dose of humor. In one scene, Rudolph recounts being targeted as a potential suitor for the daughter of an Italian hospital employee while on one of his daily visits to see Kristi.
“I’m still grieving,” Rudolph says, but writing the play made the grief more conscious and constructive. It’s woken up his empathy, he says.
Spirit in the House executive director Dean Seal said works like Rudolph’s are not just therapeutic for the creators. “Artists help other people get through their own experience by giving their problems a voice.” The Spirit in the House Festival emerged as a juried festival from the Fringe Fest, which Seal served as artistic director before launching Spirit in the House. The 10-day event explores spirituality, interfaith issues, ethics and social justice through theater, film, music, dance and storytelling. Now in its fifth season and its third name change, Spirit in the House has a new home at United Methodist Church on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, which donates the space.
Seal welcomed Rudolph into the spiritual festival’s first run as well as its fifth. “I really don’t like mimes,” says Seal, echoing a common prejudgement of the performance art, “but Mikael’s a mime that I really like.”
Rudolph opens Fri., Feb. 27, with a “script in hand” reading with four more performances through March 7. The show includes adult language, detailed medical descriptions, and sparklers.
For a full festival schedule, visit Spirit in the House.