Art and science

When Simon Bailey and fellow ethnographers Kezia Scales and Joanne Lloyd began  researching how healthcare assistants look after people with dementia, they scarcely imagined their work would inspire a ground-breaking new play at the University’s Lakeside Arts Centre.

Inside Out of Mind explores the unseen world of dementia care and is based on 600,000 words of research notes made by Simon, Kezia and Joanne in local hospitals.

The play is not simply a thought-provoking drama exploring one of the biggest challenges facing health and social care: thanks to a unique partnership between the arts, academia and the NHS, it will be used as a tool to train and engage healthcare assistants.

As well as performances for the public, Lakeside will stage the play for healthcare assistants, who will then take part in workshops. Working with expert facilitators as well as actors, the staff will be able to reflect on their own practice and explore the experience of dementia sufferers.

The play is the brainchild of Justine Schneider, the University’s Professor of Mental Health and Social Care, who had been commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research to carry out a dementia care study.

Her researchers were trained as healthcare assistants and supported these basic-grade staff while observing how they worked and interacted with patients.

The result was a report of 50,000 words — and much more unused material, packed with insights into life on a dementia ward, and also infused with drama and comedy.

Professor Schneider approached Tanya Myers of Nottingham’s Meeting Ground Theatre Company to write a play based on the research. The collaboration between Meeting Ground, Lakeside, the University’s Institute of Mental Health and the NHS has created a unique piece of theatre.

Both Justine and Tanya see Inside Out of Mind as a bridge between the arts and academia, while giving an innovative approach to training and motivating NHS staff.

For Tanya, piecing together a narrative based on first-hand accounts of life on the ward was a moving experience.

“All the characters are fictional but derived from published case histories,” she says.  “The play is not just about dementia, it’s a series of love stories, with all dealing naturally with a sense of loss.  What I really hope is that it will create an empowering, safe place for people to talk about something that is so charged or taboo.”

Professor Schneider also sees the collaboration as a creative approach to demonstrating how academic research can help shape society.

She said: “As researchers know, the REF [Research Excellence Framework] now calls for us to demonstrate our ‘impact’. Translating research findings into theatre has made it easier for them to be taken on board by the practitioners who can use the insights from research to improve care for people with dementia.

“These healthcare assistants are the same practitioners who were the focus of the original study, so the presentation of the play to that audience is especially rewarding. But the public too will find that it raises profound questions about how we treat both people with dementia and those who care for them.”

Inside Out of Mind’s cast includes Maurice Roëves, a favourite at Lakeside, and local girl Holly Webb in her first theatre role. Holly’s great-grandfather had dementia and she cared for him for several years.

Audiences can expect a challenging play, but Professor Schneider sees it as an uplifting experience: “The NHS sponsors have been crucial partners in recognising the importance of enabling all of their staff to have a better understanding of dementia and even to laugh at it: this is going to be a very funny play — people will go out laughing.”

Shona Powell, co-producer and Director of Lakeside Arts Centre, said: “Inside out of Mind is our first theatre production to be based in academic research and we hope its impact will extend beyond Nottingham, with firm interest already registered from other health care authorities, regionally, nationally and even internationally.”

For the ethnographers whose research fuelled the play, Inside Out of Mind has given their work an unexpected dimension. Simon Bailey, who took his PhD at Nottingham’s School of Education, said: “It was never in our minds the research would be turned into drama. But after starting to write the report we realised the inherent drama of the situation and that made us think of theatre. I’m looking forward to seeing it.”

Improving Dementia Education and Awareness (IDEA) is a priority of Impact: The Nottingham Campaign. For more on IDEA visit
idea.nottingham.ac.uk

Inside Out of Mind is at Lakeside from Friday 14 to Saturday 29 June.
t: 0115 846 7777
w: www.lakesidearts.org.uk 

 

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