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Expression Through Participatory Theatre

Old age for many people can lead to a decline in cognitive function which can affect their day-to-day lives in many ways. For the elderly, often the television is their main source of entertainment, yet this passive activity does little to stimulate the brain or allow a person to express themselves.

How Bright Shadow Was Born

Two university students, Rhiannon Lane and Katy Hirst, on a placement together in a care home, recognised the need for the elderly to express themselves. They noticed that residents reacted positively to participatory theatre. Using their knowledge of performance, the duo had the idea of creating their own business initiative, Bright Shadow.

What Is Participatory Theatre?

Participatory theatre is a way for people, particularly the elderly and those suffering from dementia, to create meaningful experiences that stimulate all of the senses. Bright Shadow evolved as a theatrical company to help deliver these meaningful experiences to people in care homes, whilst allowing them to remain in their usual setting.

How It Works

Participatory theatre is delivered in the form of workshops. Each workshop is based around a specific theme, such as Winter Wonderland, Wimbledon or the British Seaside. Residents of care homes are encouraged to use props and take part in activities related to the particular theme in order for them to create meaningful experiences. For instance, a desert island theme might find residents singing cheery songs, telling stories of holidays, making summery necklaces and touching sand. Staff are also encouraged to get involved, which can be a good way for them to get to know the residents better, as they feel more at ease to let go and express themselves. The workshops delivered by Bright Shadow can also fuel further creative tasks and activities that staff can then undertake with their residents.

The idea of the theatre sessions is not for participants to feel under pressure to do things they would not normally do, or to make them feel out of their comfort zone. It is about people being themselves and using their individual abilities and talents in a way that helps them to express themselves. It is not something that judges people, and it is not viewed in a competitive way.

The Effects of Participatory Theatre

The aim of the sessions is not just to enable the elderly to reminisce about times gone by, although this still has positive attributes in helping dementia sufferers and allowing individuals to share memories. Instead, the main focus is about enabling the elderly to live through the experiences they are having in the present. By stimulating all five senses, it can improve cognitive function and give a person a new meaning or experience that they may not have had for a long time. Getting people involved with themed workshops can also bolster creative thought, engage individuals and give them an increased sense of purpose. It can help them to form new friendships and improve communication skills. It can be a useful method for people to express themselves in ways that they find easier than other forms.

Feedback from participants and carers has been positive about this innovative approach, where the elderly are able to enjoy a stimulating, active experience that they can get involved in.

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