Paddling To The Palais

A Theatre Production with Trinity Laban for SLAM/Lewisham Project

Practitioners from Age Exchange and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance worked together participants with dementia and their carers, and older volunteers from Age Exchange, to create a piece of performance that would be completely inclusive.

PalaisStella Howard and Natasha Lohan from Trinity Laban contributed expertise in music and movement to support Malcolm Jones and Chloe Harbour from Age Exchange in working in a unique collaboration.

Older people contributed with reminiscence, which was then developed into movement and music, which enabled participants with dementia to be fully involved in a way that verbal reminiscence would have prohibited.

Carers like Jill Lawrence and Juliet Page early on expressed their desire and satisfaction that their loved ones were being valued as whole people. They said that so often, however wonderful the care is, their parents/spouses were seen as a person in need of care now. But that the person who existed before the dementia is often ignored, forgotten or not of interest. In this method of working the carer can support the dementia victim in telling their story.

The main structure came from working on a reminiscence poem with Chloe based on Seaside memories, which Natasha turned into a song and Stella developed with movement based on the images and stories that had been shared. The three elements then integrated into a piece of performance. Jean Hogben, a participant, then wrote a poem with her granddaughter, which we subsequently set to music and it became another piece of music and movement that everyone could share and perform together.

This led onto to talking about another source of great pleasure for this generation, which was going dancing. We looked at getting ready to go out, the etiquette of the dance hall and the dances they did together.

Jim and Margaret Washington suffered illness during the rehearsal period and after being enthusiastic attendees in early sessions had to drop out. However we made it clear they were welcome to come back at any time and were delighted when Jim arrived one day having written a song. He had written The Snowball Waltz based on a popular dance and stirred by memories of himself and Margaret going dancing.

The commitment of the group to come to sessions despite cold weather and illness was very moving. Jim and Margaret were able to be part of the performance at the last minute and they began The Snowball Waltz song together by leading the dance. Jill, who cares for her mother Ida, gave up her one day off a week to come to a final rehearsal to make sure that she would know everything to support her mother on the performance day.

Feedback was very gratifying. Ivy’s carers reported on the pleasure she got from learning the songs particularly and how her enthusiasm in rehearsal went home with her. Floss, who was recovering from a stroke turned out to be a great scat singer and immediately asked when she could do something like this again with her daughter Moira.

Feedback

“I thought the show was a great success, not least because I asked Margaret if she enjoyed it and she said yes. Did she enjoy singing and dancing? Yes! I like to think she was not just making it up. She doesn’t remember most things. If the main objective was to get people to see the real person behind the dementia and disability, I think you got it spot on – particularly because of the use of old photos and the way we were able to participate (Ivy in particular with her singing). In no way did the presence of people with dementia on the stage detract from the performance; rather they enhanced it. “Romantic” said Zoe (Gilmour) to me afterwards. Keep up the good work.” – Jim Washington

“Bringing Mum each week livened her up and she enjoyed coming.” – Jill Lawrence

“I am just writing to say how much my mum and I enjoyed preparing for and participating in the performance ‘Paddling To The Palais’ at The Bakehouse Theatre at Age Exchange. Mum is ninety this year and though not very mobile anymore and sadly not able to join in the movement and dancing very much. But she enjoyed the singing especially ‘Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree’ at the end of which she performed a very good bit od scat singing!

“She was still singing a couple of days later and talking about the play and it was lovely to see her enthusiastic as life has been pretty hard for her since the stroke she suffered in 2006. It was lovely as someone who has never performed anything – apart from the innkeeper in a school nativity play, and that many years ago – to realise how exciting it can be to perform before an audience.

Life as a carer and the cared for, is never easy and often difficult, isolating and depressing and pretty aimless, especially as in our case my health has been severely disrupted by cancer for the past four years. To have the life-affirming, happy experiences like this, that made us smile and feel quite proud of ourselves means more than we can ever say, and we were very pleased to be a part of that happy little group. We will look back on the project with affection and appreciation.” – Moira and Florence Riordan

“What a wonderful time we had ´Paddling to the Palais´! An exhilarating journey, riding on the crest of a wave, reaching a melodic and harmonious conclusion! The cheery and compassionate approach adopted by all the staff involved was truly inspirational, and made it a joy for all to be involved! It was an extremely valuable experience that gave a ´voice´ to a group of people that can often be ignored and left to slip into their own worlds rather than be integrated with others and feel to be a fully fledged ´member of a group´!

“It would be more than fair to say, that the Age Exchange in itself has provided Ivy with a new lease of life. This was a lady who was described as ´depressed´ for many years since the onset of Alzheimer’s. Since attending sessions at the Age Exchange she has gone from strength to strength, maybe not physically, but certainly emotionally. We welcomed the exciting opportunity to ´Paddle to the Palais´ with open oars, and of all the activities that we have been involved in so far, admittedly this was the icing on the cake! Ivy’s old life has been replaced with ´Ivy: The musical´, and the singing and dancing have over spilled massively from the Thursday afternoon sessions into everyday life! There is an awful lot of sitting ´under the apple tree´ rather than staring into a TV screen as a permanent occupation.

“To all that made this experience possible to enjoy, please accept our humble appreciation, gratitude and thanks.” – Juliet and Ivy