Octopus Heart

The emotional “Octopus Heart” is coming to the MSA Annex later this month.

People can physically suffer from a broken heart. It can be an untreatable syndrome like a heart attack, caused by emotion.  A local nurse is turning this mysterious phenomenon into a performance bridging the worlds of art and medicine. 

Monica Silva, who works in Tucson as an E.R. nurse, found a way to put her thoughts about the hospital and this unique medical condition onto a stage for an audience. The syndrome, first diagnosed in Japan, is named after the octopus pot (takotsubo), the shape of which the heart mimics during the sickness. “Octopus Heart” performs at MSA Annex March 28 to 31. 

Silva started out as a Spanish teacher in Michigan but didn’t feel the sense of fulfillment she wanted. Though she was teaching, she painted in her free time. 

“I became a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood, and I absolutely loved it,” Silva said. “I loved the one-on-one interaction with patients and I loved helping people.” 

She graduated from the University of Arizona in 2008 with a nursing degree, and was soon working as a full-time E.R. nurse.

Outside of her artistic and professional pursuits, Silva also has acrobatic and dance training. She discovered the art of aerial performance while on a trip to Brazil in 2002, when she wandered into a show and fell in love with the performers. 

She thought to herself: “One day I want to do that.” 

 “I would drive two hours, [while living in Eugene, OR,] to Portland and take a trapeze class,” Silva said.

When she moved to Tucson, Silva found classes from a member of the Flam Chen circus and fire theater. She started to take silk dancing classes at the age of 35.

“I found it late in life but its just something I really love,” Silva said.  

Her inspiration to host her own show, based on the concept of a medical broken heart, came while pushing a patient through the hospital hallway and realizing her career as a nurse was filled with artistry. 

Silva compared working in a hospital to dancing and music. She described that while hooking patients up to machines or doing regular every day procedures, there are movements and musical elements to those things. 

Heartbreak can be a collective thing, not just individual, Silva said. The heartbreaks that make people sick are not just only individual, but have to do with the structure of society as well. The audience as a whole can relate to something that collectively made their hearts break. 

While working in the hospital, she said she saw people suffer from social heartbreaks, which she also wants the audience to pick up on during the show. 

Silva’s show follows a patient who has come to the E.R. for takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome. Patients who come in with this syndrome are likely to feel like they are experiencing a heart attack.

Movements showing how the patient is treated for the broken heart and real hospital sounds are incorporated into the production to show what it is like to suffer from heart break. 

Silva has collaborated with many local artists and performers to help put her vision onto the stage. Golden Boots, a local Tucson band, worked with Silva to create original music for the show. 

“We’re composing the music…also helping her with scene design and lighting design,” said Ryen Eggleston, co-founder of Golden Boots. 

Silva and Eggleston spent hours visualizing what they wanted for this collaboration and storyboarding about their ideas so that their vision would come to life on stage, Eggleston said. 

Silva wanted her collaborative show to be about her experience with the human body, soul and health. Heartbreak is a mystery and she wanted her show to break down how the body reacts.

“Octopus Heart” will be showing 7 p.m. March 28-31 at the MSA Annex, 267 S. Avenida del Convento.

Briannon Wilfong is a University of Arizona journalism student and a Tucson Local Media intern. 

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