A Good Ear
SIU audiologist Anna Bussing’s passion provides
a better understanding of her patients
Written by Rebecca Budde • Photography by Jason Johnson
Aspects Magazine 39-3 Summer 2016
The year was 1903 in St. Louis, Missouri, and a little girl’s lie set in motion a series of events that affected many people.
That little girl was Tootie, played by 9-year-old Anna Bussing in the Springfield Muni production of "Meet Me in St. Louis.” Though the 9-year-old Tootie doesn’t know all will be set right when she’s caught in the lie, the story does end happily. For Anna Bussing, an audiologist in the Department of Surgery, that little lie that she told on stage years ago has brought her to many of her own happy endings.
It was Bussing’s mother, Jane, who first persuaded her to give theater a try, and even at the young age of 9, Anna felt at home under the spotlights. She’s been in a Muni production every year since she first took the stage as Tootie, and she doesn’t intend to break her habit. "I just fell in love with theater,” she says. "Every year I’d audition, and it just became my summer thing to do.”
But Bussing doesn’t limit herself to the summer stage. Patrons of Springfield theaters have seen Bussing at various venues around town in an impressive breadth of roles. She’s played the femme fatale Roxy Hart in "Chicago;” exotic dancer Mimi in "Rent” and the abused, downtrodden Audrey in "Little Shop of Horrors,” to name a few. Most recently, she played Olive Ostrovsky, an awkward, shy, pigtailed tween in pink overalls, in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at the Hoogland Center for the Arts.
Bussing’s favorite memories came from playing the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up in 2013’s Springfield Muni production of "Peter Pan.” "I played Wendy in high school, and I always had the goal of playing Peter Pan,” she admits. Bussing beams as she recalls the excited gasp in the audience as Peter Pan flies across the stage for the first time in the performance. "It was fun seeing the kids so excited as they watched the show or when they came to meet me afterward. I just got to run around like a kid the whole show.”
Right Photo Caption: Anna rehearses with co-star Andrew Maynerich and choreographer/director Gary Shull for “Nice Work if You Can Get It.” The musical will show at the Muni on July 29-31 and August 3-7.
"I just fell in love with theater. Every year I’d audition [for the Springfield Muni], and it just became my summer thing to do."
- Anna Bussing
Three years later, Bussing’s blonde hair has grown out from the pixie cut she donned to play the part of Peter Pan in 2013. "I had no problem cutting my hair off,” Bussing says. "I don’t know if I’d go so far as to shave my head, but I’d definitely change my appearance again like that for a part.”
Bussing’s confident stage presence comes from years of practice and working to get her roles right. She’s taken tumbling and dance classes to stay in shape for the demands of the singing and dancing on stage. When not working at SIU or acting, Bussing works as a director, choreographer and singer. She returned to her alma mater, Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, where she helps coach and choreograph routines for the cheerleading team. She also volunteers as a soloist every week at Christ the King Church. "One of my favorite things about having moved back to Springfield after being in Champaign for school, is reconnecting and doing the things I did when I was younger,” she says of singing in the church she grew up and coaching at SHG.
Bussing has a good ear for music, and her passion is helping her patients have a good ear, too. "I really like to counsel patients in the transition from traditional hearing aid users to cochlear implant candidates,” Bussing says of her role as an audiologist at SIU. "The most rewarding thing is when, at some point after the implant surgery, they come back and they’ve had their ‘a-ha’ moment. Things are making sense and their hearing is really improving.”
In her daily role at SIU, Bussing stops acting. Her naturally warm smile and engaging personality put her patients at ease. "I really love my work,” she says. She tests their hearing, fine-tunes their hearing aids or implants and educates them about their hearing and speech. She admits though that putting patients on the path to better hearing requires work and a "patient patient.” "There’s only so much I can do with the programming; patients who really work on their listening exercises are the rockstar patients,” she says.
Bussing can relate to the frustration of some of her patients whose hearing is declining. "I have had patients come to me because they know I’m involved in music,” Bussing says. "When you’ve played for years, the sound is ingrained in your memory, and when I suddenly change it by programming their hearing aids or implant, it makes playing or singing tricky for that person. They’re just not as finely tuned as our natural ear.”
"I have had patients come to me because they know I’m involved in music."
- Anna Bussing
She hasn’t always been, but Bussing says that she’s extra cautious about her own hearing now. She tests hear own hearing frequently. "I have a set of custom hearing protection that I keep with me,” she admits. She’s learned from her patients that optimum hearing will allow her to continue to enjoy her life on the stage and at work.
Despite the role she may have played the night before, Bussing the audiologist is a favorite with her patients. "My patients have come to see me when I’m in a show or hear me sing at church. A lot of them say that they couldn’t really hear what I was singing, but it meant a lot to me that they showed up,” she laughs.
Bussing’s patients are quite the cast of characters, but they motivate her to keep learning the best ways to help them. "My patients and their successes really inspire me,” she says. "I often see patients who are secluded, withdrawn and struggling with decline in their quality of life due to hearing loss. But they work hard to improve their hearing and find happiness as they engage with family and friends again. It’s such a huge emotional change for them, and it’s so rewarding to see.”
Above Photo Caption: Anna tests Gary Donath’s hearing in the audiology clinic.