Last month I had the privilege of performing in Curious Shoes. It was specially created for an audience of people living with dementia and their families and carers, and is a unique performance event for people with dementia in both theatre and community settings.
My favourite days of the making process – amongst many wonderful, creative, funny days, have been the focus groups. Here we got to meet the audience, and bring all of our ideas and imaginings back to what is important. Sometimes focus groups can be a token gesture – box ticking for funders – but in this process, from the start, the focus group was so influential and central to the making process. And a lot of fun. Becasue of course, a focus group is made up of people, and in this case, of funny, fun, thoughtful generous people who I now think of very fondly indeed. They had a huge influence on the way the piece was made, challenging our assumptions and responding with honesty to what we presented each time.
Having worked as an Elderflower, believing strongly in the person-centred, improvisational approach of our work, the day before our first focus group showing after rehearsals were under way, I had my doubts as to whether what we had created would work or not. Would audiences be able to focus during the set-piece sections of the piece? Would the interaction be too intense or unwelcome? Too loud? Too bright? Too dark? Would Tim and I end up improvising the whole show and ruin everything?!
As it happened, it couldn't have gone better – yes – there was improvisation, but the set-pieces made it possible to get back into the flow of the performance again quite seamlessly, and during these sections of the piece, I could see audiences focussed and involved on many different levels. This performance is totally enhanced by its audience – by this specific demographic of people living with Dementia. It is what it is because of them, so it seems to work. In the same way as our individual interactions as Elderflowers, I feel that we have managed to make something that really connects to individuals. They can be heard, and seen, and appreciated in each moment of the performance – both during the set-pieces and the more one to one interactive moments.
From the moment I was asked by Magdalena to take part in this project, it has felt like a gift – being able to combine my love for performance with my vocation to make work for audiences that don't ordinarily access Theatre or The Arts. It has been extremely meaningful and often quite moving to be part of the process.
We were only really getting into the swing of things at The Festival Theatre Studio when the run was over! I am so excited to get stuck in again in the Autumn for a wee tour.
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I am a therapeutic clown and performer. Writing here is part of my wider practice and maybe some of my thoughts will trigger some thoughts of your own and I hope that helps.