Imagine your life being interrupted multiple times each day by an irresistible impulse to rapidly blink your eyes, clear your throat or twitch a part of your body uncontrollably. For Cameron Hite, a senior theater studies major at Maryville College, this was once an everyday occurrence. Hite has Tourette’s syndrome, and he made this very personal part of his life the topic of his senior thesis, a one-man play written and performed by Hite about Jake Ferguson, a young man who has Tourette’s.
Hite’s play “Impulse” is an autobiographical account of his life with Tourette’s. The production is comedic and at the same time poignant. Hite allows his audience to experience all of the feelings and emotions that he has experienced since his diagnosis with Tourette’s 16 years ago.
Tourette’s is a neurological disorder that usually becomes evident in early childhood or adolescence. It is associated with involuntary movements of the face, arms, limbs or torso. These movements are called tics and are frequent, repetitive and rapid. A facial tic is most commonly noticed first and throughout time is replaced or added to by other tics. Verbal tics such as grunting, coughing or clearing of the throat are also common.
Hite began showing symptoms of the disease when he was around five years old, approximately the same time he began school. His parents became worried about his symptoms and took him to a doctor that diagnosed him with Tourette’s. His family, for the most part, was very supportive; although in the beginning, his father was in denial. He didn’t believe that Cameron had Tourette’s.
“It’s ironic,” Hite said, “My father had the same symptoms when he was growing up. My dad has really subtle tics and still has not been diagnosed with it.”
Hite began writing his narrative last fall during the Advanced Play writing course taught by Lisa Soland, Adjunct Instructor of Theatre. She asked him to write a three to five minute monologue on the first day of class, and he chose to write about his Tourette’s.
“I wrote about describing how I would describe Tourette’s,” Hite said. “That is where the title comes from . . . it’s like an impulse that you can’t refuse. That is how I see Tourette’s.”
Soland asked if Hite thought he could write a play about Tourette’s, and he told her that he thought he had enough events and experiences to do that. From that moment on he had to write five to seven pages each week and then cut, revise or throw out material. Hite says she gave him some advice about writing the play: “She said, ‘just sit down and write. Don’t worry about theme, plot. Don’t worry about any of that—just write.’” Hite added: “The hardest thing to do is just write.”
Writing a play about Tourette’s may seem to be a tall order in itself, but Hite wanted to do more — he wanted to challenge himself. Not only did he write the play, he played the parts of multiple characters — both of his parents, his brother, the doctor, friends, a formidable football coach and his great grandmother — a herculean acting task in itself that is rarely tackled.
Hite leads an extremely active life. He is president of Alpha Psi Omega, the national theater honor society, and works on many of the productions that take place at the Clayton Center for the Arts. He is also active in intramural flag football and dodgeball, loves to skateboard and snowboard and volunteers with Habitat for Humanity whenever possible.
Hite has many friends at MC, many of them theater studies majors such as himself. Sarah Bond, a senior, has known him since they were freshmen. Bond was also the stage manager for “Impulse.”
“Cameron is one of the funniest people I have ever met in my life,” Bond said. “All around, he is a great actor. He is a really nice guy. He is a good leader. He takes everything that he does really seriously.”
Haley Sullivan, another friend of Hite’s, was also on the production crew. She designed the lighting and ran the lighting board during the production. Sullivan enjoyed working on the production and thinks that Hite’s material teaches a life lesson.
“I thought he was very brave to write about something so personal. It takes a great person to write about your struggles in life,” Sullivan said. “It’s not just about Tourette’s. It’s about bullying in general. It’s about finding yourself. There are so many things that connect to other people.”
Hite’s plans for the future include applying for graduate school where he would like to learn about film and also continue his work in the theater. He would also like to take his play on the road—to schools and possibly medical centers or hospitals—so others can learn about Tourette’s syndrome.