My friend and collaborator, Laura Atherton, has kindly written a guest post for me! Laura is an Actor and is working on the ‘Lost in Memories’ project. As part of that project, she joined me at the Public Engagement and Performance Conference in York. Here Laura shares some of her thoughts about that event and about using her personal experiences within theatre. Over to Laura…
Use of self
Whilst attending the conference I was struck by the number of people who talked about using their own experiences in their work. Within theatre this feels like common practise. It may not be your entire story, but it is certainly common to bring part of yourself to a performance. For example, Stanislavski talked about emotion memory; using your own emotional library to find a comparable or suitable experience that can feed into the role.
However hearing researchers using their personal experience so directly surprised me and made me consider our own process when making ‘Lost in Memories’. Delia had, in part, invited me to work with her on the project because of my personal experience with Dementia. I was able to relate to the carers and family members that we spoke to during the project. I could bring my own stories to the table and I believe this gave us authenticity. As we laid out in the performance’s prologue, ‘Her Nana had dementia, she inspired this work. My Grandma has dementia.’ We wanted to be open and honest about our connection to the subject matter. Our experiences don’t mean that we know exactly what someone is going/has gone through, but I believe that they give us some credibility.
During the creation of ‘Lost in Memories’ I did end up writing a story which detailed part of my experience with my Gran. This process led to a conversation with my mum about my Gran and Grandad’s wedding. I learned that they’d only had a small wedding in Warrington, rather than in our home town. The reason being my gran was born to a man that wasn’t who everyone knew to be her father and to get married at our local Church would have exposed her. I hadn’t known that story, I had never asked. That memory has disappeared for my Gran, but it still sits with my mum. If I hadn’t asked the chain would end there. And does that matter? I have realised that for me it does.
Handing our stories over to others
During the Public Engagement and Performance Conference we gave out copies of the stories developed during the ‘Lost in Memories’ project. We asked groups of workshop participants to come up with a theatrical response to this text… in twenty minutes! The ideas that came back were brilliant, so varied. By not telling the group of our constraints, e.g. time, budget, space, etc. the responses were rich and imaginative, which was exciting to hear. I did, however, find the experience of a group of people dissecting my story very odd. They referred to the voice in the narrative as the ‘child’. The key points of the story were picked apart as plot twists rather than emotional reality.
This made me consider whether we had we done that to other people’s words and worlds. I feel confident in saying no. It’s not that we approached it ‘better’ than the participants of the workshop, but rather that we knew who the authentic voices were in the stories, because we had been involved in the process of collecting the stories. Even when read by other people I would see, hear, imagine the original story-teller and I hope that we responded appropriately, respectively. Would the participants have handled the material differently knowing they were my words, my losses? I guess that they would and if this guess is correct then it would strengthen our stance of creating the show collaboratively with theatre professionals, carers and dementia patients.
So, should I have kept my story separate to the show? As Kim Etherington said to me at the conference, if you don’t include yourself you are not telling the whole story.
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