BALL in a Nutshell



In a Nut Shell

Brian Lobel has one ball - and this is his story. 



Far from the world of yellow bracelets and pink ribbons, BALL is the story of a young man and his quirky and unique struggle against cancer and, more importantly, the Lance Armstrong-dominated cancer narrative. This is not your mother's illness drama - BALL sees all of the disgusting parts of cancer not as things which should be changed into things beautiful or inspirational. Instead, the sperm bank, the catheters, and the hair loss take center stage in all their glory, in a manner which is irreverent, honest, and, ultimately, healing.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll want to perform a self-exam.


Performance History
BALL was first performed at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, in November 2003 and, most recently, from July-August, 2006 at Chicago's Bailiwick Repertory Theatre where it was listed as a Critic's Pick by Chicago Public Radio. In between those periods, BALL has been presented three times at McGill University Medical School in Montreal, Canada, at Chicago's Single File Solo Performance Festival in October 2004, at Ohio State University in December 2004, at Skidmore College in Saratoga, New York, in February 2005, and at Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan in March 2005. BALL was performaned at the First Person Festival, a festival dedicated to memoir and documentary art, in Philidelphia, at Makor (92nd Street Y) in New York City on June 26th, 2005, and the Northern Plain Performance Festival in St. Cloud, Minnesota in April, 2006. In May, 2006, BALL was presented as a keynote address at the CAPO (Canadian Association for Psychology in Oncology) Conference and at the AMA (American Medical Association) Conference. In 2007, BALL was presented at a SOLD OUT show at Empty Space Theater in Tempe, Arizona. BALL was also presented as a Grand Rounds Lecture at IUPUI in Indianapolis, and as a Visiting Professor Lecture at Creighton University.

Although Brian officially retired BALL in 2007, and moved to London (where he is currently pursuing a PhD in Performance at Queen Mary University of London), BALL sneaks back into his life and into the world... In 2008, BALL was performed for Performing Medicine at Royal London Hospital and at Barts and The London. In 2009, BALL was performed at University of Southampton. BALL was published in Text and Performance Quarterly in 2008, and is available for purchase on DVD. Brian also offers in-home performances of BALL, which is a very fun and original gift.


BALL worked from 2005-2007 with the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism In Medicine to educate, and entertain, new doctors regarding their work with "the patient." Through the Gold Foundation, BALL has been performed at Columbia University, University of Florida - Gainesville (2x), Ben-Gurion University - Beersheva, Israel, Florida State University, Rosalind Franklind School of Medicine (2x), Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (2x), Creighton University, UC - Irvine, UC - San Diego, Eastern Tennessee State University, University of Vermont - Burlington, Medical University of South Carolina, Wake Forest University, University of Alberta, University of Illinois, Chicago, in hopes of futhering the knowledge of America's (and Canada's) next generation of doctors. To this end... a worksheet/summary of BALL's main educational points is provided below. While not a substitute for the full BALL experience, BALL IN A NUTSHELL attempts to distill BALL's craziness into a lesson plan for young doctors.


a treatise on performing BALL for medical schools
*a new short piece*

Kat Burgett, a medical student blogger from Wayne State University, wrote: "And now, an imperative. If you have the means, contact Brian Lobel to bring his one-man performance of the play BALL, a traumedy to your med school or undergrad pre-med program. His one-hour show about his experience with battling testicular cancer at the age of 20 ranks right up there with meeting Patch Adams for me. He's brave, honest, and above all - willing to laugh at the absurdities (realizing that one should not get too comfy on the leather chair in the sperm bank donation room) and atrocities (Being told after two months that he was no longer in remission) of cancer. He rails at the idea of Lance Armstrong, and celebrity diseases. He showed everyone that there was a place for a gawky 20-something with a big nose and no athletic ability or enduring wisdom in the world of survivors with book deals and segments on Oprah. Above all, he humanizes a very dehumizing disease - something I didn't realize I needed to understand until I left the auditorium."


Recognition for BALL
BALL received the 2004 Hopwood Drama Award from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, an award made most famous by one of its first winners - Arthur Miller. About BALL, the national judges commented - " A tour de force with a very dangerous – even fragile – subject. He never goes for the cheap tear, or, graveyard humor. He takes you straight at it with powerfully direct, simple and informed language. Doesn’t skip the ugly, or embarrassing points," and "Its unique story is told with much humor and charming adolescent awkwardness... extremely compelling.

In Chicago, Public Radio listed BALL in its Critic's Choice, saying: "This is a one-man comedy about testicular cancer – and before you run away - what's great about it, is that it is a comedy.   (Cohost jumps in) A comedy about testicular cancer? A comedy. Can you imagine the pitch meeting on that? The thing is that it doesn't engage in false heroics… The press release for this thing said "Challenging the narrative of Lance Armstrong," and that sounds sort-of over the top, but that's what he's doing. Brian Lobel is indicating that cancer is not ennobling, although survival might be. It is really terrific." To listen to the radio review click here and download from the "Dueling Critic's Piece." It's 5:33 minutes into the theater show.

The Windy City Times agreed, saying:"It's a wonder that Lobel can discuss his intimate affair with America's healthcare system with humor and pungency, but that's what he does in this effective one-hour show. BALL represents Lobel's reaffirmation of life after a harrowing experience. Lobel tells his own story honestly, with an engaging smile and the confidence to share intimacies and embarrassments with us."

During his year in review, Jonathan Abarbanel, for the Windy City Times, recalled that BALL "disarmed critics and audiences, making the both laugh and squirm." That made me proud.

For additional press coverage, video clips, audience comments, please see PRESS.


Brian Lobel - writer, performer
Brian Lobel (Writer/Performer) - Brian's first play, BALL , has toured extensively at solo festivals, universities and medical schools in the past year and was a featured performance at Makor (New York City), First Person Festival (Philidelphia), and at Single File Chicago.  Since moving to Chicago in 2004, Brian has worked with, and for, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The Goodman Theatre and Next Theatre.  His directing credits include 'THE GUNSLINGER (and a baby)' at Breadline Theatre and 'Night-Cher at 20,000 Feet' for Hell in a Handbag Productions.  In Ann Arbor, he was the co-creator and co-director 'After A Fashion' with performance artist Holly Hughes, which was later remounted at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Other directing credits include 'Tango,' '4.48 Psychosis,' 'Cosi,' and 'Games in the Backyard.'  Brian recently assisted Austin Pendleton on Steppenwolf Theatre Company's 'Love Song,' after completing a 9-month artistic apprenticeship there.  

Brian is the recipient of the 2004 Hopwood Drama Award and a 2006 and 2007 CAAP Grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.   His second solo performance, "Other Funny Stories About Cancer, " premiered at Live Bait Theater, in Chicago, in July 2006, and was a Critic's Choice in the Chicago Reader, who called the play "raw and ambitious." For more information, click here. Brian Lobel was listed as one of Chicago's '30 Under 30' by the Windy City Times, in 2007, before moving to London. Brian is currently pursuing his PhD in Drama at Queen Mary, University of London, where he is also a Visiting Lecturer. He is a 2008 recipient of a Wellcome Arts Award for a new project, FUN WITH CANCER PATIENTS. For more information on current projects, click here.

About the Play:


Problematic Cancer Diagnosis

A Problematic Diagnosis – When a doctor inaccurately describes Brian’s swollen testicle as ‘problematic,’ Brian realizes that surviving illness will not only take physical bravery, but patience… an avalanche of spiritual rhetoric and awkward encouragement could challenge any 20-year-old man’s sanity.

The Sperm Bank

Butch atmosphere, HIV tests and a lack of good porn stifle Brian’s otherwise unique opportunity to enjoy a jaunt to the sperm bank.




The Problematic Sperm Diagnosis

Although the notion of infertility seemed distant, Brian faces the blunt reality with pause.


Cancer as a Second Language

Brian attempts to make sense of the mess of language surrounding cancer, while resisting the urge to learn from his experience.


A Two-Ballist, Scroto-centric World

During a failed runaway, Brian realizes that as One Ball Lobel, he may no longer possess the two-ball privilege enjoyed by most.


The Requisite Dark Chapter

With even his positive spirit in tact, Brian struggles with bleak online medical advice, large scars, and 15 lbs of lymphatic fluid..


A Not-So-Funny Part

Brian attempts to dissuade a sympathetic audience from experiencing his recurrence alongside him.


Too Sexy

The stem cell transplant process makes an emaciated Brian a supermodel… the focus of gawks and reminder of everyone’s mortality.



Brian finally comes out, as a survivor.

The Final Hula-down

In an attempt to be a more successful survivor than even Lance Armstrong, Brian takes on a horde of 8-year-old girls in a hula-hoop contest, proving that while it feels nice to survive, it feels great to win.






A related quote from Naguib Mahfouz:
"In my youth, I succumbed to an illness that persisted for several months. The atmosphere around me changed dramatically, as did the way people treated me. Gone was the world of intimidation as I was taken into the embrace of tender attention. My mother would not leave me on my own and my father would stop and see me as he came and went, while my brothers and sisters brought me presents. There was no scolding or reproach about failing examinations.
"When I was on the way to recovery I was very afraid that I would go back to the former hell. Thereupon, a new individual was created within me, who was determined to preserve the atmosphere of tenderness and esteem. If application was the key to happiness, then let me apply myself, whatever the cost in hardship; thus I began to leap from one success to another, with everyone becoming my friends and loved ones.
"How rare for an illness to score such beautiful achievemens as mine."

- from his book, Echoes of An Autobiography, 1997.


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