Guest blog from Lauren Wyatt
One of the young people who recently took part in Dare to be Great
About the project
Over the past month I have been involved in a collaborative project for young people in the Fylde coast; involving Fable Arts, Ludus Dance and Clifton Hospital staff and patients, with an aim to raise awareness and understanding of dementia. The project allowed both us as young people and the patients at Clifton hospital, who are living with dementia, to come together and explore personal “Dare to be Great” moments. These moments could be as simple as remembering a time in which you have laughed, danced or simply enjoyed or appreciated your loved ones.
Working on the piece
Personally visiting the hospital and speaking to the patients really allowed us to explore these memories and “moments. Then we took all these moments and memories and used them to create a piece of physical theatre and dance. This highlighted the importance of cherishing the good times, as well as recognising the sad times, and appreciating and understanding how hard and sad it can be living with dementia. We then toured this “Dare to be Great” piece around outdoor spaces in Lytham, and finished by performing on the main stage at Lytham festival on Sunday night.
Why I got involved
I signed up for the project as I felt it was a unique opportunity to interact with an older generation through the arts, and positively affect their day even in just a small way. What really hit me about the project was how much I genuinely made a connection with some of the patients at the hospital. By taking part in chair based movement sessions and by talking to them one on one it allowed us to get to know the patients and for them to get to know us in a relaxed environment. What is special about this project is how we used the arts to make the patients smile, laugh and enjoy themselves.
A personal highlight was when we first visited the patients at the hospital and we were all sat in a circle dancing and singing to some classics such as It’s A Long Way To Tipperary and Twist and Shout. I couldn’t stop smiling as it was so rewarding to see how much life and energy the music and dancing brought to these patients, making them laugh and smile for maybe the first time in days.
I can honestly say I never thought this summer I would find so much joy in dancing with pom poms to The Stripper with a group of older people. Or Achy Breaky Heart with rhinestoned cowboy hats, which was another high point in the movement sessions. I will never forget sitting next to a man called David who was purposefully going the wrong way, with his movements, to everybody else. When I said to him “you’re going the wrong way David”, he simply replied with “of course I am”. I later found out that David was quite a guy, he had worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and has visited China 50 times! This project has made me realise that old people aren’t grumpy and boring but are actually pretty amazing people, however I will never forget being told “ Well it’s your weight!” when taking another cake from the plate of sweet treats, thanks Melvin!
Working in collaboration
After spending time with the patients and collecting their memories, it was time to devise the piece. This was a very collaborative process between us, as young people, Ant and Vicky from Ludus Dance, Lee who composed the music, and Norma and Tina who were our set and costume designers. For me, it was really different to have such a collaborative focus, particularly between the set design and choreography. I have never worked with so many props and such an intricate set before. It was good to experience how choreography can be evolved around a set and how the set can become such an integral part of the story and narrative of a piece.
I definitely learnt some new skills within this project, for example puppetry. One of the most poignant moments in the piece is when we used puppetry to “bring to life” a husband of a person living with dementia. This highlighted the memories of family, the joy of time spent with loved ones, and then the great sadness when a loved one is no longer there.
When performing in Lowther Gardens, Lytham Square and Clifton Hospital, it was amazing to get such positive responses. Many were touched by the piece and it was great knowing that we were spreading awareness of dementia, especially as it can be seen as quite a taboo subject particularly amongst young people.
Performing for the patients at Clifton hospital was very special and will be a performance I will never forget. Although I have danced in front of a range of people in different places, I have never felt so emotional and touched whilst performing. It was so special because the piece was all about them and their memories and lives making it personal. Therefore, seeing the patients’ reactions was all the more amazing.
My personal highlight
Although performing on the massive Lytham festival stage was an amazing experience, I will never forget my ultimate highlight of the project – performing bits of the piece for a lady called Rhoda at Clifton hospital. Rhodawas involved from the beginning of the project and was always smiling and having fun. Unfortunately, she was too ill to come in and see the full piece, so we went into her ward to perform. I couldn’t stop smiling. It was absolutely incredible to see her face light up when we danced and see her tapping her feet in her bed.
This moment truly epitomised what the project was all about for me, through dance and music we saw Rhoda experiencing happiness and excitement and enjoying living in the moment.