I formed First Draft Theatre in 2010 as an opportunity for like-minded people to present original works on the stages of the London Fringe. To date we have produced four festivals featuring short plays and over twenty individual productions.
One of these new works, and the one that had by far the most impact on our audiences, was Alexander Moschos' play Brainville at Night, which was inspired by his experiences of caring for a lady with frontotemporal dementia. In my role as producer, I was very keen for the play to help promote awareness of the work of The Alzheimer's Society and so I invited their members to contribute to the programme notes as well as taking part in post-performance Q&A sessions with audiences.
I distinctly remember being overwhelmed by the statistics surrounding Alzheimer's; not just the number of those living with dementia in the UK, but of course the thousands who work tirelessly as carers. As my eyes were opened further to the various forms of the disease (not to mention those who go undiagnosed), I knew that I wanted to do something further with First Draft to bring new productions of professional theatre to those in care centres outside London with little to no access to such entertainment.
At around the same time, my nan, Dot, was suffering with chronic arthritis and depression. Her anxiety meant that she could no longer be cared for at home and needed to live in an environment in which she could receive 24 hour care. Trying to find a suitable place for her was not an easy task; she was desperately unhappy about being unable to live the life she had known so well and to enjoy the social benefits of being around her family and friends.
Though she was not diagnosed with dementia, she displayed similar traits. Physical frailties, hallucinations and an inability to communicate her most basic needs were commonplace. I was determined to do something that might help to stimulate her mind and those of her fellow residents. Whenever I visited her during this time, we were both reminded of the first play I had ever put on: a spectacular one-woman show in my garden, when I was aged just 7, and with a ticket price of 2p! Ever since that time, she followed my career as an actress and producer avidly, and now here she was asking me what I was working on, and "will you sing that song you used to sing?"
In September 2015, I asked my nan that if I were to bring a production to Sussex for her, what it was that she would want to see. Her reply was "a bit of everything please - just like what you do in London". And so, in December 2015, we toured our first production, The Snow Queen, to 10 care homes in East Sussex. Sadly, my nan passed away just one week before we visited her, yet the tour was an intensely humbling and rewarding experience for everyone involved and we were delighted that the care providers saw such positive reactions from their clients, and they emphasised the need and demand for this work to continue.
This is why I am now investing my time into developing our work with the hope of expanding it further across the UK in the near future. Our new charity will take professional theatre into care environments, with the hope that we can offer alternative stimulation and the experience of live theatre that is (hopefully!) entertaining for all, but also accessible to those living with dementia, learning difficulties and frailties. I am determined that these productions should be of little to no cost for the care centres and that they should look to be as adaptable as possible. We want to transform the everyday spaces of the residents – whether it be a living/dining room, garden or reception area – in the hope that they can enjoy professional theatre in a pop-up venue with the same level of production values that I would expect for any London theatre show I produce.
A new charity will be fully established by the end of September under the name ‘The Dot Collective’ and we hope that completing these formalities will make funding applications a little easier from then on. Unfortunately, we failed to receive any funding from The Arts Council, but that will not stop us from bringing our new show, A Midsummer Night's Dream to care centres across the South East this September. It will feature a specially adapted version of the Shakespeare text, with live music, dancing and interaction with the audience.
To make the tour possible we need to raise £8,000. This cost covers the set, stage, lighting, sound, five actors, van hire, petrol, three nights accommodation in Sussex, rehearsal room hire in London, a director, stage manager, producer, insurance, costume, instrument hire and props.
The Chalk Cliff Trust has generously donated £5,000 to our project, but obviously we still have a way to go. Any help towards achieving our goal will be hugely appreciated and, more importantly, will mean we can give the care homes the experience we know that they deserve.
Please spread the word of this campaign far and wide and don't hesitate to be in touch if you want any further information. I am determined that our tour this September will be the beginning of a long relationship with care providers and residents across the country and I thank you in advance for helping us to expand and bring this work to as many places as possible in the future.
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