Dementia play planned

Theatre practitioner Cindy Diver (left) and Dr Susie Lawless discuss their joint project. Photo...
Theatre practitioner Cindy Diver (left) and Dr Susie Lawless discuss their joint project. Photo by Peter McIntosh.

Prominent Dunedin identities are among characters in a dementia documentary play to be performed this year.

The project, whose working title is Still Life, is being scripted with verbatim material from interviews conducted jointly by Dunedin theatre practitioner Cindy Diver, and Dunedin GP Dr Susie Lawless.

Participants were offered full anonymity. However, a few chose to disclose their identity.

The project was conducted under stringent ethical standards, central to which was remaining true to interviewees' testimonies and not manipulating them to fit a storyline, Ms Diver said.

Approved by the University of Otago's medical ethics committee, the project was also supported by Alzheimers Society Otago.

''We don't go into our interview process with what we want to get out of it. We go in and we let them speak, and from that we try to find common threads between the stories, and common themes,'' Ms Diver said.

Grief, compassion, coping with change, and loss of independence emerged as key themes - but there was plenty of humour, too.

''There's the idea of personhood; what makes you the person you are, and at what point that ceases to be, or whether it just becomes something else.''

Ms Diver said.

Dr Lawless was pleased by feedback from the daughter of a participant, who said the process helped her mother to accept the disease, giving her a sense of peace in the process.

''That was really lovely to hear, because we'd not done harm, and perhaps it had been quite therapeutic for her,'' Dr Lawless said.

Interviewees included dementia carers, spouses, and people with the disease. The play would use about a dozen individual stories, most of them from Dunedin.

''It's definitely a Dunedin story. It has that flavour about it,'' Dr Lawless said.

Subjects were drawn from a diverse range of backgrounds, and some were well known.

''Some have said that they don't mind being identified, and part of their identification is part of their story, because they are prominent Dunedinites,'' Ms Diver said.

Dr Lawless was interviewed by Ms Diver a few years ago for another verbatim theatre project, whose theme was domestic violence.

Seeing it performed made her realise the power of theatre to depict social issues, and Dr Lawless suggested the pair one day work together on a project about dementia.

Ms Diver said she had not previously had personal contact with dementia, and from the project learned about the stigma and misunderstanding that existed around it.

''I would love for people to come along, and listen to these stories, and walk away with a little bit more compassion ... and a wee bit more knowledge.''

The play is directed by Stuart Young, and will be performed at Fortune Theatre Studio over two weeks in June.

Most of the funding to produce the play has been secured, with some funds still being sought through sponsorship packages and donations.

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