To Change the Landscape

I have always been interested in the connection between emotional memory and a theatre experience. Why can it at times tap into a part of oneself more than music? Yes, I dared to share that, MORE than music. My parents first took me to the theatre when I was 3 years old to see Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. By all logical means, I should not remember this experience the way that I do, but it tapped into my emotional memory that was then built upon by every experience that occurred after that moment. Now you could argue that music played a large part in this as I saw mostly musicals, but I don’t think it was the music alone that did it or the rhythmic dance of dialogue. I saw my first movie in the theater I was 4, one year older, yet I have no memory of the experience, and music was involved as it was Disney’s Aladdin. Somehow A Whole New World didn’t stick, by In My Own Little Corner did. It was this particular form of storytelling, theatre, that found a way into my emotional memory.
As my interest and work in dementia progress, I become more curious about how theatre and dementia can work together. That same emotional memory that pushes forward my experience when I was 3, is that same emotional memory that helps us connect with loved ones with dementia, helps us become relational with them, that same memory that is untouched by the disease. All of the arts have the potential to use emotional memory to help someone living with dementia live well, and music and dance are getting a lot of attention right now in the field for this very reason (and rightfully so!) however, how can we best use theatre and theatre storytelling techniques to tap into the emotional memory to create valuable life enrichment programming? How can we use it to create an educational tool for children to teach them about dementia? How can we use it to teach others to become relational with dementia, and to not fear dementia which further engrains the stigma and doom and gloom narrative that has existed for decades?
As I have stated before, the arts have the greatest potential to shift the negative view of dementia. We listen to stories, to music, and view art, and while theatre is maybe not the strongest (read: most popular) player in the bunch it is one of the most versatile. Through the creation, exploration, and participation (passively or actively) in theatre, we can create training and workshops that can have a long-lasting impact on caregivers, children, and students who will potentially enter the field of aging. By engaging in a wide array of storytelling approaches we can become relational with those living with dementia, changing the landscape. With arts-based research and a larger emphasis on creative engagement and artful aging, I hope to see more imaginative processes blossom in the field of aging and dementia, in how we care for, in how we educate, and in how we support those living with this disease.

Published by Kathryne Fassbender

Creative Gerontologist, Speaker, Catholic Innovator. I am also the granddaughter of someone who lived with Vascular Dementia.

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