Andy and the Beats — An Original Diabetes Musical

5/26/16
WRITTEN BY: Andy Rogers
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Diabetes? A musical? Can you really sing about that? The answer is YES. Musicals are absolutely beyond Type 1 diabetes, but before we delve into the up’s and down’s of how my Type 1 story has been turned into song, we must start at the very beginning (Sound of Music, anyone?). My older sister was diagnosed at age 9 after what seemed like a year long of symptoms feigned as growth spurts. She is tough, insatiably funny and has the knack of turning any kind of drama into a comedy. She’s always been my hero and I remember feeling so frustrated that she had to go through it alone. I didn’t feel like I could really help, but I didn’t really know how it felt to have Type 1 diabetes. Little did I know how that would change.

Eight years later, the summer before my sophomore year of high school during the heat of what my town calls “Fun Fest” — a week long community celebration with music, food and an 8k run that helped unveil some of my initial symptoms. My diagnosis was quick — I remember being completely fine until the usual suspects hit: frequent urination, excessive thirst (I remember finishing three cans of soda before touching my dinner just to quench my thirst), and extreme weakness. After I ran the 8k race, I vomited all over the finish line — not quite the photo finish! The day I was actually diagnosed, I was trying to mow the yard but was too weak to start the lawn mower. I told my dad what was happening and we checked my sugar right away. With my sister’s monitor, we saw the dreaded word: “HI.” After a brighter calibration at his office, my blood sugar read 964.  

andy_rogers_3Now fast forward to my senior year of college at the University of Tennessee where I majored in Biochemistry and minored in Theatre, (an odd yet pertinent combination that lead to the creation of my original diabetes musical). After a long run along  the Tennessee River, I was thinking about my remaining year in undergraduate studies and how I might apply some of the things I had learned along the way. My best friend had completed an independent project for Biochemistry for which he received credit for working in a lab. I knew these opportunities were abundant, but this idea never appealed to me. I was a walking oxymoron: performing organic chemistry procedures by day and performing in elaborate musical theatre productions by night.

My Jekyll and Hyde persona finally lead me to the idea of writing a musical about diabetes as an independent project to showcase both my passions: music and medicine. Combining my two loves helped create a platform for revealing the emotional depth behind a very clinical disease state. I came up with a draft of how I would go about this project and exemplify both divisions and seemingly opposite directions of studies at the College of Arts and Sciences. I presented my case to my advisor and the head of the Biochemistry department and with their approval and my promise to back the musical with a lengthy research paper, Andy and the Beats found its voice.

Andy and the Beat opens with the Beats, a fictitious “doo-wop” group that narrates the story of Andy, the 13-year-old protagonist without a care in the world, as he is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and the weeks that follow. Sometimes people unknowingly mistake Type 1 diabetes as an uncomplicated, “quick fix” disease without realizing that Type 1 diabetes is a daily battle of conquering unstable blood sugars. We see the daily obstacles that Andy faces with his mother, classmates and other characters of fantasy, such as the Virus and the Pancreas, that shed light on the social aspects of living with Type 1 diabetes. The intentional yet subliminal education spread throughout the show allows audience members to learn about the physiological impairments as well as social ailments of living with Type 1 diabetes through song, dance and a whole lot of heart. Andy and the Beats is truly something special because it gives a pulse to the disease state, a stage to the exam room, and a name and face to the patient on the chart. No matter what your connection may be to this disease — an innocent bystander with no affiliation, a loving brother to a sister in pain, or an active participant hoping for a cure — this show will inevitably urge you to walk for the cure for Type 1 diabetes.

How do we walk for the cure? We educate ourselves and others about the facts and misconceptions of Type 1 diabetes, we allow ourselves room for frustration and grief, then drive out those negative emotions with thankfulness for what medical advances have accomplished, and we hope for an even better future when this disease is eradicated indefinitely. I know that day will come, but it will take time. That is why we cannot sprint to the finish line nor fall victim to a lackadaisical approach to a cure. My work with Andy and the Beats is a constant reminder of what I teach kids dealing with Type 1 diabetes. I walk with this musical just as I walk for the cure: one step at a time. I envision Andy and the Beats reaching kids and families struggling with the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes and connecting them to other members of our small but strong community. I see this show giving a voice to kids all over the world wanting to share their story of a disease that locks us into this mute purgatory of being sick but not sick enough … The road is long, but my vision stays clear each day as I continue to prune the musical and allow it to grow into something bigger, better and even more beautiful than I could ever imagine.


Read The Amazing Race and How Diabetes Didn’t Stop Her, an interview with Nat Strand



Andy Rogers

Andy Rogers, an East Tennessee native, is a Biochemistry and Theatre graduate of the University of Tennessee currently working as a Program Assistant to the Cystic Fibrosis Department of East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville, TN. He will be pursuing his MMSc in Physician’s Assistant Studies at Mercer University in Atlanta, GA next year with hopes to work in the field of Pediatric Endocrinology. Andy and the Beats has been produced multiple time in East TN as staged concert readings and educational school showings. He has lived with Type 1 diabetes for almost 12 years; he has a sister who has lived with Type 1 diabetes for just over 20 years. (And he has an incredibly cute rescue pup named Todd.)