Hello! We are the other half of the 2018 Sharing Joy cast, Nik and Doug. As we were not very well versed in blogging, we thought we would ask each other some questions about our experience of performing for people living with dementia. So here they are!
What was your understanding and experience of dementia before and during the project?
Nik: Before Sharing Joy I had no experience with dementia; no family members have developed the condition (yet) and I had yet to meet anyone living with dementia. My understanding was limited to having watched Finding Joy a few years previously and, based on what I saw, I became aware of similarities to an experience I had some years ago in which I couldn’t recognise the streets where I lived and couldn’t remember what a Kit Kat was! I felt this had given me an appreciation of where people living with dementia were at, I was able to empathise.
My understanding improved from the first day of rehearsals. Rachael took us through the Listening With your Eyes workshop which quickly and effectively gave us a very clear idea what it must feel like to be living with dementia, an experience which is validated and built upon each time we perform Sharing Joy. Put simply I would describe it as a feeling of vulnerability, of being detached and of having to trust that strangers will have your best interest at heart; it must be exhausting. As a result of this tour, I inevitably feel better equipped to talk to people living with dementia; in particular the interactive element of Sharing Joy has proved the importance of eye contact and physical contact in establishing a connection.
Why is mask work good for engaging with people living with dementia?
Nik: The use of a mask provides clarity by minimising the available information: it takes away the need to interpret facial expressions; removes the possibility that the actor is someone they should know; and there are no words to recognise and understand - all of which is also helpful if sight and/or hearing is impaired. Mask theatre requires each individual audience member to make their own interpretation of the story, making it a very personal experience - and there’s nothing to tell you you got it wrong!
What inspired you to join Vamos Theatre?
Doug: My wanting to work with Vamos Theatre started in 2014 when working on Shooting the Moon, a full mask show about the life of Georges Melies with Russell Dean the Artistic Director of Strangeface Theatre Co. It was my first full mask experience and introduction to puppetry. Russell, who also makes the masks that Vamos Theatre use, spoke very highly of the company and urged us all to see their work.
My first opportunity to see a Vamos Theatre show was in Edinburgh at the Assembly Halls venue two years ago and I was not disappointed. I had seen mask work before but Finding Joy blew me away. It wasn’t just the attention to detail, beautifully touching story or incredibly talented performers that got me, it was that this company were sending a message and educating people on a subject that isn’t talked about enough and I knew nothing about. It was the inspirational performance I saw that day combined with the workshop audition day we had, that made me decide I wanted to join the Vamos Theatre team.
What made you want to take a show into Care Homes to perform in front of audiences of around twenty older people who may or may not get what's going on, and are highly unlikely to remember you after you've gone?
Doug: Why not? I don’t think you will find more honest audiences that the ones we are performing to. I didn’t know what I was getting myself in for when first joining because I just really wanted to work for the company. In this unpredictable and unstable industry we work in, I think you have to be ready to take on anything it will throw at you. At first I was a little bit terrified (Wait, what? I have to connect with people who really don’t want to be there? Look them in the eyes and not talk!? Just be there with them?) But I have learnt so much from this experience. I don’t think I have ever had such an appreciative audience. “We are just happy to be doing something different for a change rather than just sitting” and if that’s enough, then everything else is a bonus. Why not have a flirt and create something to remember and talk about? Or just give them a sense that they had a good day...
Nik Howden and Doug Rutter