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Play It Through

Styx #DramatherapistAtEdFringe

Max Barton and Addison Axe are musicians from a musician family.

A few years ago, their grandfather passed away after suffering from alzheimer’s. Recently their gran has also been diagnosed with alzheimers.

Max is keen to find out more about his musical family and starts some detective work to track down the people, places and songs which are important but missing parts of the memory.

Syncronisity

Jung believed that sometimes in therapy, coincidences would emerge that seemed less than likely by chance alone.

‘Dr Jung put forward a new concept that he called synchronicity. This term means a “meaningful coincidence” of outer and inner events that are not themselves casually connected. The emphasis lies on the word “meaningful”.’ 

(Franz, The process of individuation, 1964, p. 226)

Max was recently asked to compose a song about the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. He bases this myth on his grandparents relationship.

In the first moment of synchronicity, his gran tells him once he has finished the song that her and his granddad used to run a music venue in Swiss Cottage called the Orpheus Club.

Max wants all the details but his gran is no longer able to recall them. We hear Max and his grandmother talk, spiralling closer to answers but always with fragments missing.

Unfortunately, synchronicity or fate also present many blocks to the detective work- every time Max seems to be getting closer he arrives at the information just a tiny bit too late as everything fades and slips away.

Memories

Memories are stored as shards in the brain:

‘The human mind operates with several different kinds of memory: working memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory…

Cementing the information in your long-term memory, is often accomplished by associating the new information with all the information and storing it in categories you can later access by means of re-association’

Wangh, S. (2000). An acrobat of the heart: a physical approach to acting inspired by the work of Jerzy Grotowski. New York: Vintage Books: 47-48)

Furthermore, the sight, sounds, smell, words and feelings of the memory are all kept in different places. Then to recall the memory your hippocampus area of the brain pulls some shards together and fills in any blanks with “stock footage” memories. But then that altered memory is what you try to reassemble the next time you recall the memory, adding more stock footage where there are memory gaps. And because we care more about the meaning of the memory, and what that means about who we are, than about the details, this impacts what we remember further. The harder you try to keep a memory the faster it fades as it changes a bit more every time it is recalled.

I wonder how this altering process is affected by dementia

‘Sometimes although the person has very little short term memory their long-term memory is good. What this can mean is that they grieve again for people lost years before because the memories are so vivid compared with more recent memories. So much of memory informs identity – our memories of who we were in the past give a substance and a context to who we are now.’

Crimmens, P. (1998). Storymaking and Creative Groupwork with Older People. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. p. 91

What if there are long term memories which have been substantially changed over the years but where a person no longer retains the short term memory? Does this mean that perhaps they can remember more of the original memory and may lose the altered parts?

Music

This show beautifully brings together different memories from the gran, layered with facts that Max has discovered from his detective quest and adds them to the stock footage of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth.

These elements are underscored by a soundtrack of music composed by Max and his grandfather played by the cast of 7. Music triggers activity in almost all parts of the brain

‘music often animates and awakens us from torpor. It reminds us of times past and brings us into the present. When music plays, we can feel a bodily response, a vibration in the cells, a stirring in the heart. It is the cellular awakening which we eek in bringing music and movement into dementia care. It constitutes a ‘not giving up on the person, a knowing that the body can still feel and express emotion even when the conceptual and verbal identity of the person is coming and going.’

Hayes, J., & Povey, S. (2010). The creative arts in dementia care: practical person-centred approaches and ideas. London: Jessica Kingsley: p. 81

Closeness and Letting Go

For Max and Addison, part of collecting the memories and performing this show is about getting close to their grandparents one final time. Connecting with the memory of their grandfather and then saying goodbye to him, and connecting with their gran while she is still able to remember. The audience is invited to raise a Whiskey to the memory of their grandfather in a touching final tribute. As we look back, it once again slips away.

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