Shadow Play Blog

Blog Post 2

By Molly from Smoking Apples

Wednesday 11 July 2018 – Session 2

It’s probably no surprise that our group at Age UK in Tunbridge Wells have the most incredible stories. But having a story and wanting to tell it are two very different things. Part of Hattie’s job and mine, therefore, is to get to know the participants in the group and, if they’re comfortable, hope that they will share some of their stories with us.

Luckily for us, we had no need to worry and blimey, what a session it was! We were truly amazed at the detail, depth and emotion of the stories that we were told, both the ones that came out through the facilitated parts of the session but also our chats with the participants over lunch and coffee throughout the day. In our generation of social media, smartphones and the internet, we still tell stories, but in a very different way. It’s instant and the segments of stories are delivered immediately so you rarely see the overview of a story; rather, you hear about each bit of it, as it happens. Our participants, in this group, are the letter-writing generation, and the care and attention they take in describing things visually is just magical. In the space of three hours we covered everything from marrying a sailor (even though your mother told you not to!), playing in bands, watching jazz at Preservation Hall in New Orleans and dancing on the Pantiles for Empire Day.

As Hattie mentioned in her blog last week (see below), the participants have a strong connection to music and many of the stories we heard this week were closely related to music. The way in which the participants described their stories was also incredible. The heart and humour of the retelling is key and something we hope to include in the film. There’s also a real sense of joy working with this group and again, alongside the music, this seems to be emerging as another strong connector for them. The group regularly refer to feeling joyful or remember the times from their stories as joyful, and it’s interesting for us to observe that these are the moments that are most fixed in their memories.

 So both storytelling and music are coming forward as key factors in this process so far as they really allow for the participants to engage with what we are doing. We’ve also been working with them to further unlock their imaginations and not fixate so much on what actually happened, as this can sometimes cause frustration, particularly when things are difficult to recall. We spent some time listening to different types of music and creatively drawing a response to it on paper, and also trying to match music with a series of pictures and images, encouraging the participants to make the connection between music and visuals.

 The stories from the group, imagined or otherwise, are so captivating and we’re now thinking of ways to incorporate them into the film alongside the shadow puppetry. Next week, we’d like to try to record some of the stories from the participants and work with the idea that they could be used as audio to accompany some puppetry visuals. Their voices, and the way in which they tell these stories, are paramount, and we absolutely adore listening to them. Fingers crossed the audience will too!


Blog Post 1

By Hattie from Smoking Apples

Wednesday 4 July 2018 – Session 1

When Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival approached us about delivering this project, we were very excited to take part. I have worked with the wiser generation before and found it to be some of the most rewarding work to do. There is a tendency to forget and patronise anyone over 70 as they grew up in a world very different from the one we know. However, making art with them is an inspiring experience, so we are grateful to have this opportunity to share our skills with a group of adults living with dementia.

Our first session was a chance for us to get to know each other and find out the strengths of the group. We were met with some excellent senses of humour; while going around the group and introducing ourselves, one participant told us we should address him as ‘Your Majesty’, which made everyone laugh. After a warm-up and some ice-breaker games, we soon discovered a shared love of music within the group. This manifested itself in various ways. There were a lot of smiles and laughter, brilliant dance moves, and even some people singing along. It is such a joy for us to be able to begin new friendships with these bold and bright individuals. Although it is a fairly large group of 20 with a lot of different tastes to accommodate, we did find that music brought everyone together.

Our aim for this project is to work with the participants to create a story that we will then tell in a short shadow puppet film. As we will be using puppetry in the final performance, we introduced the group to some different ways of using it. Some participants took to puppetry immediately, by making the puppet look around and wave, but it was not as universally popular as the music. Perhaps this is because in some forms of dementia it can be very difficult to clearly perceive the world around you – for example, a person living with dementia might see a black carpet on the floor as a hole in the ground. With puppetry, our aim is to allow the audience to believe an object to be a living, breathing being, but it could be difficult to accept this idea if your brain is constantly confusing you as to what is and isn’t real. Furthermore, dementia can make it very difficult to focus on one thing and not become distracted, so the dual task of both puppeteering and watching what you are doing could be part of the problem.

During this session, we started to get to know the participants and hear some of their stories. We even wrote a group story together at the end (which gave our resident comedians a chance to put in some more puns). Although we are going to the centre to lead workshops, we are learning a great deal from the participants and staff – for example, that the food there is great, and that New Orleans is the best place for jazz. We are also learning a great deal about the needs of the group. In particular, I would like to highlight the importance of identity for those taking part. It is clear that it is really important to everyone to be given the time and space to contribute without us finishing their sentences for them or cutting them off because the silence feels too long. By giving each person a safe space to talk, we allow them to be the individual people they are, with individual tastes and experiences, and to remove some of the  fear of losing their autonomy. By actively listening and responding to each person’s contribution, we show them the love and respect that they deserve.