Our current project – WHERE NOW? – is the first time we have directly teamed a nursing home residency with the creation of a performance piece. The timing and structure of the project means that each week, along with our rehearsal room reflection and enquiry, we are starting to explore performative possibilities and create a devising language. At the end of the nursing home residency we will transition in to the rehearsal room full time for ten days. It’s a short process and we will be sharing our work-in-progress on 27th May at Folkestone, Quarterhouse as part of Normal? Festival of the Brain and on 14th June at Chelsea theatre for London Creativity and Wellbeing Week. So, contrary to all previous work – we have begun with the end in mind.
At the heart of Living Words is our intention to be person and process centred. This work is about relationships and about words – in that order. As an actor and writer, I believe if you focus on the process, the outcome takes care of itself. As a team we enquire around appropriation across all art forms, and consistently return to it as topic in our work – both within residencies in the way we work, edit and share people’s words; and in how we share, contextualise and represent participants in our publication and performance work. So, it is important for us to put the performance out of our minds as we work one-to-one with resident participants and staff.
This project has a different framework than usual in a number of ways but for now I will focus on two: 1) We know what type of dementia a person has (this links to the premise of the project); and 2) We are particularly listening for how a person is experiencing life – we begun the project with the question: What does it feel like to be alive towards the end of your life and living with a dementia that affects your senses? Usually we ask not to be told each participant’s diagnosis – after all, as the saying goes ‘When you know one person with a dementia…you know one person with a dementia!’. But we were guided in our choice of participant, linked to diagnosis, by Dr Seb Crutch at UCL Dementia Research Centre. Dr Crutch is partnering us on this project and we are delighted to be included in his successful Wellcome Hub bid – for info: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/News/2016/WTP060262.htm The aim of knowing a person’s diagnosis was to enable us to work with people who had particular types of dementia that are known to have associative sense and perceptual issues. What does the information of diagnosis do to me? Well, for one – having conversations about prospective participants’ diagnosis before the project felt uncomfortable and at odds with our work and process. Secondly, I feared that there might be an almost imperceptible shift in the equality of the working relationships. This may sound overly concerning but it is the minutiae and detail of interpersonal dynamics that the relationships are formed, words are spoken and communication potentially improved. The second difference – us wanting to explore how participants’ see the world – is proving less of a challenge for me. I have discovered that I can have this as an intention as we work without it coming too consciously to mind. What both of these new elements do is bring to mind the need to focus on process, rather than how it usually is for me – a learnt behaviour. Obviously we would all be aliens if, for example, when a participant is expressing something that is relational to our work in the rehearsal room, we didn’t have a spark of awareness of the connection but what I remind myself is that – although yes, we started this residency with the end (the theatre piece) in mind – the work is as it has always been. Relationships. And words.