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John Doe: The Musical

Acting From A Hospital Bed

Above: Michael Nieto plays the title character in "John Doe: The Musical."

Aired 11/8/12 on KPBS News.

"John Doe: The Musical" is a homegrown production that opens tonight at the Lyceum Theater. Lead actor Michael Nieto talks about the challenges of playing someone in the coma-like state of locked in syndrome.

"John Doe: The Musical" is a homegrown production that opens tonight at the Lyceum Theater. Lead actor Michael Nieto talks about the challenges of playing someone in the coma-like state of locked in syndrome.

A middle-aged man is found unconscious and with no I.D. so he's brought to a hospital, put on a ventilator, and labeled John Doe. That's the starting point for the new musical "John Doe." Actor Michael Nieto plays the character who suffers a traumatic brain injury that leaves him aware of his surroundings but unable to move.

"For me it's been almost like having an opportunity to do an acting exercise, trying to figure out how to communicate using one part of your body. How to communicate emotion using just your eyes or maybe just a finger."

The injury also shatters John's mind into five parts. So onstage, Nieto must lie immobile in a hospital bed while actors representing John's fractured personality sing and dance around him. Nieto explains how he used his breath to convey what John is feeling.

"How fast your breathing or intense your breathing can communicate a level of anxiousness or relaxation those sort of things. [Listen to the radio feature for examples.] "

Since the play's an original San Diego production, Nieto has enjoyed having the opportunity to help shape the character. "John Doe: The Musical" runs through November 25th at the Lyceum Theater.

The subject of this play pairs up nicely with the following films: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "Whose Life is it Anyway?" and "Promises in the Dark."

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