Dramatic Expressions - Teaching personal, social and emotional skills through drama

Vamos Theatre

Posted on | October 6, 2017 | No Comments

September 21st and I had one day off work. ‘Do something nice,’ urged my kind husband.

Friends of ours had spoken enthusiastically about Artrix, the Arts Centre on the outskirts of Bromsgrove. Off I tootled that afternoon, taking pot luck as to what was showing. A matinee on a rainy day.

I drew up in the spacious car park. As I switched off the windscreen wipers I could see a number of older people, muffled up in raincoats and hats, either walking or being pushed in their wheelchairs into the building. Something was up.

Once inside Artrix everyone – carers and seniors alike – were being warmly greeted by staff and other people, one of whom, though relatively young, seemed to be dressed in older person’s clothes. She met one person with, ‘Hello, I’m Bidi and I’m one of the actors in the play you’re going to see this afternoon, Finding Joy’.

Finding Joy? What was this? I had a quick look round for some information. Finding Joy – a fully masked play about dementia by the theatre company Vamos

Ooh. This was a challenge.

In recent years my own father has shown the early signs of problems in this direction. You see, I cannot say it yet. He says, ‘My memory is very poor these days’ and to my sister he said the other day, ‘I’ve lost my memory’. It’s sad. We mourn. We say, ‘Does it bother you, dad?’ ‘Not really’ he says ‘but I don’t know what mum’s talking about sometimes.’

Did I want to spend my day off thinking about this? Yet, the title intrigued me. Finding Joy. It sounded positive rather than the opposite, and anyway I love a good play.

But once in the auditorium, things took a different turn to the usual. The actors stood on stage, addressing the audience, first without their masks and then with. They explained the characters and introduced the music to be used for individual scenes. These elderly theatre goers listened carefully and so did their carers.

And so the play got underway. Joy, an elderly woman, is living in different parts of her earlier life – a life dominated by WWII, air raids and evacuation. We see her in her courting days, dancing with her young man and picnicking as a new mum with her family. In the present day her daughter and grandson don’t know how to cope with her or how to react to the apparently strange things that she does. It’s beautifully told through mime. Not a word spoken. Action, gestures, props and music are all that are needed for the whole meaning to be clear.

Poignant and comic, thought-provoking and absorbing. The ingenuity is in the fact that, by the end of the play, you realise that you have learned a fair bit about how to be around someone with dementia, without knowing the process by which this has occurred. The drama shows you what to do. Very clever.

I was first out of the auditorium but already the actors had whipped round that back and were there to greet their audience. Enthusing and congratulations over, I explained a bit about my background. ‘Yes, we’ve been working with deaf actors and deaf audiences’ said the male actor I was talking to. ‘Really?’ I said, surprised. ‘Deaf people don’t tend to go for puppet-like or masked actors because they can’t see the actors’ lips to lipread.’ ‘But think about it. There’s nothing to lipread. Only mime’, he said. I thought a bit. This was true.

About a fortnight later I was chatting with an English teacher from Braidwood School for deaf children in Birmingham. ‘Have you seen Vamos?’ she asked. ‘Our kids love it.’

So, it was true.

Vamos, I see your artistic technique as having huge potential for deaf children and young people. I will be running a workshop in January on using drama with deaf children and your name and what you are doing will be up there in lights!

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