On a scorching, hot sunny afternoon, this time last year, whilst sat in my garden, we had a Vamos Theatre team meeting with the main aim to "Get the RSC as a partner venue for our Arts Council England Strategic Touring Project." This means performing and delivering a package of Vamos Theatre full mask theatre productions and dementia awareness training at the RSC to share our passion of positively supporting those living with dementia and their carers (both professional carers and those caring for loved ones at home). Hazel Radcliffe, our Project Manager is like a terrier dog (in determination rather than looks) and sure enough she came back with the news - “the RSC is in the bag!” HURRAH.
What we hadn't prepared ourselves for, was love at first sight. The Vamos Theatre team met the RSC team at our first Knowledge Sharing Day on a treacherously snow blizzard winter day in March. We enthused about our project; an international touring and award-winning show about dementia, called Finding Joy, and another show performed to celebrate life and all its joys using music, dance, nostalgia, masks, puppetry and laughter, especially for people living with dementia, called Sharing Joy: and lastly our training workshop, Listening With your Eyes. The team from the RSC wanted everything and more! There was an exchange of passions, ideas, challenges and ambitions and we soon realised that we were a perfect match. Both teams wanted the same, shared the same beliefs and went home buzzing with the excitement of young love!
Reading the RSC Dementia Plans for 2018, I can see exactly why we fell for each other hook, line and sinker. It quotes Arts Council England Chair, Sir Peter Lavallette, “There are now over 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia. For many of them, the arts will be fundamental to enabling them to live well with their condition. This means that the arts should not only be relevant and accessible to people living with dementia, but also to their families and carers.” The RSC respond in their plan with, “As a leading national theatre, we should be leading the way in this area.” And so begins the happy marriage between Vamos Theatre and the RSC…
In April, we were invited to train 50 members of the RSC’s staff (from all departments: front of house, marketing, producers, even actors) in our Listening with your Eyes workshop. This training breaks down exactly how we communicate without words, using our eyes, posture, gesture, pace, even touch (all the skills of non-verbal full mask theatre) all made relevant to how we can engage well with people living with dementia. Additional training has since been booked for July and September with gorgeous feedback;
“I walked back to the RST feeling very emotional and can wholeheartedly say that this was the best session (training) that I have attended during my time at the RSC.”
“The training seemed particularly relevant for our front of house staff initially; however, it was wonderful to see so many people from a variety of departments who had found huge relevance in the training. It was generally decided that what LWYEs offered was more than Dementia Friendly awareness. The training could be aimed and tailored to a variety of needs such as Autism awareness, Deaf awareness, dealing with challenging customers, difficult work colleagues. In fact, the training was more of a training session about ‘How to be a Better Person’, which is something we can all do with. It is lovely to see that all the Vamos Theatre team live and breathe the Listening with Your Eyes ethos.”
The love affair cracked on a pace, and more ideas stared to flow. As a result, I was invited by Claire Birch, RSC Assistant Producer, to be Mask Director for the RSC’s Mischief Festival on Day of the Living. Here I worked with the Creative Team to incorporate a family of Mexican full mask characters. It was fascinating finding a space for stillness and silence in a roller coaster of a bustling, political and colourful production.
Josefa MacKinnon, Assisted Performance Coordinator at the RSC said, after speaking to audience members after their British Sign Language Performance, “I think having those valuable moments on stage where BSL users watch the masked characters, just as the rest of the hearing audience are watching them; the fact that you are not missing out on valuable information or having to choose between watching the interpreter or the action, is beautiful.”
What does the future of this romance hold? Sunday the 29th July will be the last (emotional) day of the 2018 Sharing Joy tour for Vamos Theatre (having toured care homes, hospital wards and theatres up and down the country), performing at the RCS’s first ever dementia friendly café. What's so exciting is to learn is that the creative brilliance of the RSC has also booked two musicians from an orchestra to play in the foyer between the two shows, as well as having special guest Yogi, a "Pat Dog", who is a regular visitor at Stafford’s nursing homes, join us for the day.
On September 29th we are working hand in hand with the RSC at the Engage 50+ Festival in Stratford with a stall to promote their assisted performances and access resources. Look out for the starched aprons, ironed caps and polished shoes of the full mask characters Midwives on Call! Armed with bandages, towels and everything needed to avert a crisis, our girls – led by the formidable Matron – will be there, causing mayhem and mischief.
As the climax to this whirlwind affair, Vamos Theatre is bringing Finding Joy to the RSC for three performances (9th-10th Nov), including one of the RSC’s very own “Chilled Performances”. When Finding Joy performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, the Edinburgh Reporter kindly said, “You cannot go home and face your loved ones with any excuse whatsoever for missing it. Have some compassion for your future memories.” We are touring Finding Joy for one very last time in the UK (it has toured for 7 years throughout Britain, Europe, Scandinavia and China) so if you’d like to see it in England, what better place than Stratford upon Avon?
It’s been a passionate romance, a love story, a dream come true, all born out of wishful thinking on a sunny afternoon! With special thanks, love and respect to the RSC's Catherine Partridge, Claire Birch and Josefa MacKinnon XXX
Vamos Theatre Artistic Director