Coming Off Script
It was about this time last year that we did our first training residency at Westmead Carehome. This was a three month project with four artists working with 2-4 people living with a dementia under the close supervision and guidance of Susanna. For me this experience was life changing. It was an intensive roller coaster of a journey. The majority of the training was learning on our feet. In the rehearsal room we were trained in the very specific Living words process and had reflection and discussion, giving us the opportunity to learn from each others experiences.
Applying this training to the (sometimes seemingly chaotic) relationships we were forming was another matter. The specific challenges that arose within each relationship was always surprising and sometimes tricky. There were many unexpected personal side-effects to the work as well. Some of the most prominent being: a re-evaluation of my own priorities, questioning the nature of consciousness, emotional transference / a strong empathetic response, beginning to see dementia in a new way, confrontation with my own mortality and (dare I say it) a kind of process of maturing from all of this.
Coming back to the work a year later felt both foreign and familiar. There was a new ease with the work, as if my brain had been practising, processing and building upon my experiences from last year. When I first stepped towards ‘E’ I was very nervous, I thought I wouldn’t remember how to do any of it but was surprised by how easy it felt. It was like remembering you speak the language in a foreign land.
In this residency I have begun to feel as though I am able to come off script. My background is in theatre and there is always that moment in a rehearsal in which the text seems to spring off the page and into your own mouth. It becomes your own words, part of you and a kind of ownership of and freedom with the language is born. Suddenly you can go deeper into the play, the relationship and the moment. In relation to this work what I mean is that I have begun to feel a deeper understanding of the process. I have got to grips with it more, seen it work, come full circle and have more trust because of this. In this residency I have been more able to move with my intuition and be more fluid with my actions, speech and reactions. This would not be possible without the strong foundation of ‘the script’ of the process.
Being able to have some space to follow and act on the feeling in any given moment has helped bring the work deeper. (Rather than all my concentration being used up by trying to remember my lines!) Sometimes an observation said out loud can open up further trust and space for a person I’m working with to express something. It can add to the validating experience. I feel I’m able to follow that person far more because I’m not having to think so much.
Every person I’ve worked with is so completely different. It takes time to get to know the best ways of working with someone. Time to adjust to each persons daily rhythms, needs, use of language, behaviour, feeling states etc and this means that you can never really be prepared in the sense that it will always be new and you don’t know where a session will lead to. You don’t know what you are going to encounter or how that person will feel or behave on any given day.
It all still feels new too, fresh and the process continues to surprise and challenge me. I still have masses to learn but I feel less like I’m free falling and more as if I’m parachuting!