Thursday, March 24, 2011

Next Steps in Arts Think Tank Part 2: Finding Penelope

The Play. I've been postponing this organization of my thoughts and my mixed (in a good way!) response to it. It is a beautifully crafted, complex and tender piece of art. I am half afraid to write about it. But "[f]inding Penelope" (FP) was one of the main reasons for my trip. So I want to document this learning experience.

I had been following The Penelope Project blog for a while after Marj told me about it when she came back from the Seattle IA Conference. It inspired us, me, to consider writing a dissertation about an instructional intervention using theater. To see it implemented in person is surreal.

To provide some background to my perceptions, I've never read Homer's Odyssey as a student in Singapore. My international background may also cause some tension in my response to FP. Asians are expected to show filial piety to their parents, and sending the elderly to "old-age" homes is stigmatized. I struggle regularly with this tension -- being a filial daughter who should be taking care of her elderly parents, one with Alzheimer's and the other one acting as her primary caretaker versus being a supportive wife living in the US. I am conflicted in my response to the cast of elderly participants; I see my mother in them. Would I like to see her in the chorus? I think so. Would I stay away from the nursing home like Mira? No, I don't have the fear of nursing homes that Mira has. But it is a place that is associated with many "de-"s: "decline", "decrepitude", "degeneration" ... except that FP challenges viewers to think differently. Life in elderly care doesn't have to be about waiting for the end to come; we can engage the residents in something meaningful and imaginative. It is certainly not easy. Not everyone is a fearless charismatic leader like Dr. Anne Basting?

I also see among them my deceased friend who was in hospice care in a Catholic nursing home. I've seen her in her final days and remember restrictions were in place for visitors so as not to disrupt her rest. Here, the elderly are participants, opening their living units to us instead of hiding. It confounds my mind in some way -- would I wish peace and rest or clamor for a loved one?

I see talent (Dr. Basting, Sojourn Theater, actors...), hard work, perseverance, collaboration, negotiation, emotional connection... This performance is staged on a scale that is way beyond me right now. Would I love to be part of a project like this? Sure. I miss theater, producing, directing, managing... When can I do it again? I don't know. My dissertation does not include the staging of performances. Perhaps we can continue working with the project somehow to get it to performance stage?

To meet so many theater experts/giants in person was an honor! Other than Dr. Anne Basting, there were Dr. Jan Cohen-Cruz, Gulgun Kayim, Prof. Robbie McCauley, Dr. Elinor Fuchs, Dr. Carrie Sandahl, Prof Lucy Winner, Dr. Susan McFadden, Prof. Raoul Deal, Prof. Robin Mello (actress in FP) not counting other professionals who work in healthcare and arts, Pam Korza, Melissa Sharp and Kirsten Jacobs. I also became acquainted with Leonard Cruz, the choreographer for the gestures.

What an experience! I learned so much from the conversations and thank my project directors for the awesome opportunity.

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