Guest blog: A dementia-friendly theatre performance

Nicky Taylor, Community Development Manager at West Yorkshire Playhouse and Dementia Friends Champion, tells us about the dementia-friendly performance they recently ran at the Leeds theatre.

Going to the theatre is an experience many of us look forward to. In my role as Community Development Manager at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds I have seen the profound impact a visit to the theatre can have on people living with dementia and their families. For the past 5 years I’ve been leading creative activities for people with a diagnosis of dementia and through these participatory projects I have supported many people living with dementia to see theatre shows. Starting with preparatory themed workshops, we also explore the set and costumes and meet the actors, to enhance their theatre experience.

A pre-show singing session where attendees learnt songs from the musical together. Those attending the dementia-friendly performance were encouraged to sing along during the show if they wished.

The positive responses I noticed in terms of concentration, communication, creative expression and laughter convinced me that a dementia-friendly performance was the natural next step. In early 2014 at West Yorkshire Playhouse, we started to explore what a performance of this nature might entail, consulting with people living with dementia and those who support them. How might individual experiences of dementia challenge us to re-think sound and lighting cues, or the actors’ performances? What is it like to arrive at our venue if you have issues with visuospatial perception? How could we make adaptations to support people who find it difficult to be in a busy environment? And how could we convince people to leave the house if they haven’t attempted to in months?

Fast-forward a year and with an enormous commitment from everyone involved, we have now staged our first dementia-friendly performance. Over 400 people came to see it. Our company of actors were profoundly moved by the connection they made with their audience. Some said it was the most special performance of their careers. A team of over 40 staff and volunteers committed to meeting and greeting, assisting people to their seats, manning a quiet space, guiding people in an unfamiliar environment, and most importantly, understanding some of the challenges of living with dementia. In this, my role as a Dementia Friends Champion was key. I led 4 Dementia Friends sessions in advance of this event, for staff and volunteers, for students from a local college and a local primary school. Sessions enhanced people’s understanding of dementia and impacted directly on how they approached their roles on the day. Participants commented on the clarity of the Dementia Friends information and how empowered they felt. One volunteer in her 70s, commented that the event was ‘the best thing I have been involved in in my entire life’, which was incredibly humbling.

Seeing so many people wearing their Dementia Friends badges on the day gave me an enormous sense of pride and reassurance, and this understanding clearly translated to the interactions people had on the day. As a member of the Leeds Dementia Action Alliance, West Yorkshire Playhouse is continually developing as a dementia-friendly organisation, and Dementia Friends is key to this. We have over 80 staff who are Dementia Friends, and are planning more dementia-friendly performances. The demand is there and the feedback has been wonderful. As one audience member said ‘you have made my Christmas!’

2 thoughts on “Guest blog: A dementia-friendly theatre performance

  1. Vince Baiera

    Dementia Friends Team,
    I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog over the past year as a healthcare professional myself (RN). I stumbled upon it when got more focused on the problems that seniors have with mobility and injuries, and I was immediately hooked by your focus on Dementia because my grandfather has Dementia. I really enjoyed your post on a whole school of Dementia friends. It’s important to help give these patients support as they age so they don’t feel as they are alone.

    I currently have a project set to launch on Kickstarter called the step2rest (www.step2rest.com ) that will launch next month. As a nurse, now focused on helping keeping the senior safe in their home, I thought I might share it with you. Would you be interested in doing a interview/guest entry/review on your blog? My hope is that it would add value to your audience, especially since it’s in line with helping keep seniors in their home.
    If you’d prefer to review the final copy of the product, I would be happy to send you additional information or perform a demo with you privately. Thanks for your time, and I look forward to future entries about the problems seniors face in their home.

    Vince Baiera R.N., BSN
    330-418-0113
    vince.baiera@gmail.com

    1. Dementia Friends Post author

      Hi Vince – many thanks for your message and for sharing your project. Whilst it’s not something we can feature on our blog, we wish you luck with the project.

      Best wishes,

      Dementia Friends

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