Reflecting on The (Alzheimer’s) Remember Project

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Reflecting on The (Alzheimer’s) Remember Project

2017-09-25T23:51:36+00:00 November 30th, 2015|

The Remember ProjectIn late November The Remember Project, a series of three one-acts touring through the St. Croix Valley, came to end.

At the table-read in early August I was excited, but terribly afraid of this project! Combine a lack of understanding about Alzheimer’s disease, the general fear of communicating with people suffering from memory issues and you have a pretty good picture of where I was coming from.

However, I knew that by using theatre to educate audiences about memory loss we could reduce the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s disease and help communities be more dementia friendly. In short: make the world a better place.

The Remember Project was a transformative experience, unlike any other show I’d ever been involved. Not only were these one-acts relevant to the communities we toured through, but after every performance the cast and audience engaged in a facilitated conversation to more deeply understand dementia.

The audience — otherwise complete strangers — shared beautifully heartbreaking stories about caregiving for loved ones and the struggles accompanying this terrible disease.

Conversations weren’t always easy because society sees vulnerability as weakness. The stoic men in the audience experienced the toughest time. We did our best to create a safe space to share openly. Soon big tough guys started talking about their fathers/brothers/mothers/sisters/wives — perhaps for the first time — and cried. This project offered some catharsis.

I think the project also shifted the audience’s preconceived notions about what theatre is.

We performed on chancels in churches, nursing homes, libraries, a barn, and hospitals. We didn’t have a stage, curtains, light cues, or any other kind of barrier separating the audience from actors. Everyone shared the space.

Denise & Jim

Denise & Jim

Each venue offered a new set of challenges for the business of entering, exiting, and blocking. I think this helped add spontaneity and upped the risk factor or raised the stakes, somehow.

There’s immediacy with theatre. Somehow The Remember Project carried more. It was gritty and answered questions in ways the audience hadn’t seen before. These shows affected them. And me.

Participating in The Remember Project was an honor.

Of course, the amazing thing about live theatre is that things go wrong! The Remember Project wasn’t without it’s hiccups…

 

But…

I do have three wishes.

  1. Younger* audience members. Because those are the future caregivers for a society which is seeing exponential increases in new Alzheimer’s diagnoses.
  2. More social media involvement to further engage with audience members to direct them toward resources and support groups.
  3. To keep doing this work.

The Remember Project — and all the people it touched — spoke to my heart, lifted me up, and took away the fear I had about dementia and for that I am so very grateful.

Kris, Jim, Andrew, Heidi, & Michael

Kris, Jim, Andrew, Heidi, & Michael

Our director, Matt, helped bring the best out of each actor in every show. Our tour manager, Kris, kept everyone sane even as the schedule became more insane. The acting company — Jim, Andrew, Heidi, Denise, and Charles — were patient and fun and kept things light when they were heavy. Everyone listened to me vent about the wacky goings-on in my personal life and without their love or support the project wouldn’t have worked. I’m so grateful to have worked with these kind, talented individuals. I’m grateful they’re now part of my stage family.

The Remember Project had a bittersweet end. The day after the last performance I accompanied my wife, Katie, and her family to the internment and memorial service for her aunt, Mary, who suffered with Alzheimer’s and died because of Alzheimer’s.

There is no medical cure for Alzheimer’s, but I learned compassionate caregiving comes close.

Thank you for the experience, St. Croix Valley Foundation!


* = During the entire run of the show I’d been praying for younger audience members. Suddenly — as often happens with prayer — it was answered!

 

 

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