Dementia-Friendly at the Barn: the start of something special
Right from the start Curious Shoes was a different Barn experience. The play has been developed exclusively for people living with dementia, and as a very privileged fly on the wall, I was allowed to observe this unique experience.
The actors set up a rapport with the audience from the outset, with exaggerated facial expressions, lots of body language and very few words, and performed a series of set pieces, connected by the common theme of travelling, and funny choreography involving lots of large empty suitcases! They combined dance, song, film, lots of musical instruments and physical theatre to completely engage the audience. Each actor was mainly dressed in one primary colour and had very distinctive shoes, the wearing of which was often optional. The acting style and some of the set pieces reminded me of Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy movies, particularly where music and expressions were used instead of words.
Unlike many regular performances, there were no barriers to audience participation, with everyone on the same level and the actors, sometimes casually, sometimes deliberately inviting the audience to join in. One such piece was the use of a box full of special things: baby shoes, an evening glove, a map - which were each placed on one of the audience tables, and unpacked to reveal memories, problems to help with, and opportunities to play. All the faces I could see were completely absorbed, with lots of interaction and laughter.
Afterwards I spoke to director Magdalena Schamberger, who is also the co-founder of Hearts and Minds, a Scottish arts-in-health charity that has a specialised programme using the performance arts to connect with elderly people with advanced dementia. She explained that she had noticed people with advanced dementia often end up stooped over looking at the floor, meaning that a pair of shoes is often the way that they first meet someone, and the more interesting the shoe..!
As a theatre director, Magdalena also strives for performance excellence. As they left, one of the ladies in the audience whispered to me, ‘Have they been at this long?’ I said I thought they probably had, but she seemed convinced they were just starting out. ‘I think they’ll go far’, she said.
Linzy McAvoy, Learning and Engagement Manager has been delighted and moved by the play and its effects on both the audience and staff at the Barn.
"This project has been a long time coming to fruition, and we have been very involved researching and finding our audience. Having reached out to partner organisations such as Forget-Me-Not and local care homes, as well as Alzheimer Scotland, we now have a network of local people who we know will benefit from this type of performance. Curious Shoes sparked a few lovely moments and really felt like the start of something special, reminding us all why we work somewhere like the Barn."
There are plans to expand on the knowledge already gained, with in-house training from Dementia Friendly Aberdeenshire and Glasgow Festival Theatre.
Next on the dementia-friendly agenda at the Barn are monthly screenings of some old favourites, with Calamity Jane already having great attendance in October, followed by Singin’ in the Rain in November and Casablanca in December. All shows start at 2.30pm on Wednesdays, cost £5 and are open to all.
Until next time,