A collaborative performance for people living with dementia, their loved ones and those who care for them.
Curious Shoes provides an opportunity for somebody with dementia to share the experience of seeing a piece of high-quality theatre, without it being a stressful or worrying experience. It offers a chance to be creative, to be seen and to be heard.
Curious Shoes premiered at Festival Theatre Studio, Edinburgh, in March 2017 and toured as part of the Luminate Creative Ageing Festival in Autumn. We are hoping to bring our collaborative performances to audiences in theatres and care homes across Scotland, and beyond, in 2019. If you would like to register your interest or receive information, please click here.
I feel like I am shining inside.
The original idea for Curious Shoes came from the observation that many people, particularly in more advanced stages of dementia, are frequently curled up in their beds or chairs and often seem to first encounter a person by their shoes. The more extraordinary the shoes, the more their curiosity seemed to be sparked and their interest awakened. I then wondered what concentrating on this specific viewpoint might inspire and ignite into a creative process that would combine dance, music and song.
From the beginning, people living with dementia were at the centre of the research and at the heart of this approach. From the outset, I worked with a team of artistic collaborators, across different art forms, who let themselves be guided by the curiosity and interests of our focus group of experts: those affected by dementia and those caring for them. Not only did this allow us to test aspects of our process for suitability, such as music, lighting, sound and set, but also meant we could incorporate their suggestions with regard to characters, design and content into the development of the performance itself.
That was the most wonderful experience of young people I have ever had.
Curious Shoes was conceived and directed by Magdalena Schamberger. It was brought to life by professional artists from across different art forms and a focus group of experts living with dementia. This took place over a three-week development period followed by four weeks of rehearsal.
The project commenced with a week-long creative residency, during which Magdalena and dance artist Cai Tomos explored initial themes and a framework for the production. Cai also provided choreographic support during the development and rehearsal of Curious Shoes. Following this residency, the collaborators were selected based on their existing experience of working with people living with dementia, their particular interest in making accessible work for these audiences as well as their cross-art form areas of expertise.
In preparation for the project we visited a variety of Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Cafés and NHS support groups. We were also put in touch with Forget Me Not participants at the Festival and King’s Theatres, Edinburgh. Eddie and Sandra, Ena and John, Rosie and Christeen and Wilma and Jim decided to join our Focus Group of Experts and remained with us throughout the project. At regular meetings during the development and rehearsal weeks they gave us invaluable input as to what they liked and what did not engage their interest. They not only gave their insights into different aspects of the production but their opinions also helped shape the content of the performance itself as well as the choice of title, Curious Shoes.
Some of our experts were very generous with their time and contributed outwith our formal gatherings: Eddie viewed the set design model and gave his opinions, whilst John also attended a marketing meeting. In addition, John documented the weekly development of proceedings with regular cartoon drawings of different scenes including ideas on how to progress the storyline. Although the sessions were generally filled with fun, laughter and stimulating conversation, there was also meaningful and important work taking place. Our focus group made their contributions very conscientiously and we could not have developed the project without them.
Curious Shoes is one of the best things that has happened to us in recent years.
You created a wonderful world out of nothing.
Curious Shoes is a collaborative experience from beginning to end.
Every audience member is greeted as soon as they step in the door. They are expected and we know who is coming. The quartet of performers work together from the onset to provide a warm reception for everyone to make them feel safe, welcome and relaxed. They behave in a way they would when welcoming old friends to their home: Bette is in charge of taking coats; Fred’s role is to make sure everyone gets their personalised name badge and Charlie, the gracious host, accompanies audience members to their places. Vicky provides a suitable musical repertoire to bridge the time it takes to make introductions and seat everyone whether walking, using wheelchairs, Zimmer frames or walking sticks, at cabaret style tables within the set.
A bright red dance floor invites the audience to enter the Curious Shoes performance space. They are walking this ‘red carpet’ as our special guests for this event. The stark contrast of the red floor to the dark performance space, importantly, also gives a clear and safe indication where to walk when entering and exiting. Throughout the performance it holds the audience in a safe warm embrace as part of the set.
I wanted to thank you for putting on the dementia friendly performance of Curious Shoes and congratulate you on what a stunning work of performance art you’ve achieved.
I’m the Dementia Friendly Communities/Dementia Friendly Aberdeenshire development officer for Banchory, and in that capacity I deliver awareness raising training to businesses, libraries, schools, shops, fire services, and everyone in the community, to help them learn a little more about what dementia is, and what a dementia life is like, and can become, for a person with dementia and how we can adapt our behaviour to positively respond to persons with dementia. Knowledge is power which empowers the community to be more dementia friendly and thus more accessible to people with dementia. My focus is on the early stages of dementia.
I liked everything about Curious Shoes, from the lovely, funny, sincere faces and antics of Bette, Vicky, Charlie & Fred, who were really believable and interacted so well with the audience. The subdued lighting and the sharp black/white background was also easy on the eyes. I especially liked that generally, not more than two people were moving around the stage at the same time, that the performers were at “street” level, not away up on a stage, not too many sudden movements, and I loved the subdued music, and that there wasn’t any percussion or bass. The dialogue was easy to follow, as well as the single theme with many very funny and touching vignettes, all very easy to follow. I thought colour blocking the performer’s clothing with the mystery box was fantastic. The red dress segment was sublime. These boots were made for walking was just the perfect ending to a lovely, lovely, well thought out and produced, happy, funny performance, and it was lovely to see almost all of the patrons getting up and dancing.
Congratulations to all of you for an altogether enjoyable afternoon and very well presented performance for persons with dementia and for older adults. My only question is: Do you have any plans to bring your production to other parts of the Shire? My colleagues who cover those areas are green with envy.’
That was very much of you. It was something different and that makes a difference.
Shoes were the starting point in the development of the individual characters of Fred, Bette, Charlie and Vicky, who are lightly based on four film characters for whom shoes play an important role: Fred Astaire in Funny Face; Bette Davis in Now Voyager; Charlie Chaplin in City Lights and Vicky Page (Moira Shearer’s character) in The Red Shoes.
The individual characters were also loosely related to the four seasons and the colours somewhat associated with those times of year. All costumes and props were subtly colour coded to be recognised as being connected to a particular character.
The audience members were seated at cabaret style tables which were also linked in colour with the individual characters who acted as hosts at the tables throughout the performance.
Very clever. This is the best thing I have ever seen!
The individual objects employ a colour palette and colour contrast widely recognized to be easily visible to the ageing eye. We used primary colours as a starting point but also made sure there were enough differences in tonality within the individual colour schemes.
All objects were closely connected to the individual characters and were selected due to their meaningfulness in regard to the back stories for Bette, Charlie, Fred and Vicky. We paid great attention to detail and spent considerable time carefully choosing objects that would encourage interest, exploration and engagement by our audience members.
Curious Shoes is expertly crafted and elegantly told: as a theatrical work it is actually curious in lots of ways, not quite dance yet beautifully danced, not quite story but still dramaturgically rich, it also creates real opportunity for intimacy between performer and audience while remaining expansive in its scope and ideas. The presentational language and style is genuinely unique. Its best and most charming theatrical trick however, is that it manages to live in the past, the present and the future all at same time. It’s a bit like a poem you remember learning a long time ago that hasn’t quite finished writing itself.
All performers as well as our set and costume designer underwent a full day of Artful Minds training as part of the rehearsal process. The entire production team explored specific elements of Artful Minds, particularly in regards to potential visual, auditory and spatial challenges often associated with dementia, which were relevant for their role within the project. This influenced the choices made in the creation of the set, costume, lighting design and overall production from the outset. In addition we discussed set, costumes and lighting with individuals from our focus group of experts.
Within Curious Shoes performances the audience is invited to enter on a red carpet, in stark contrast to the black dance floor performance space. The set consists of a number of white sails, abstract in nature, which contain the space whilst enabling us to easily create different environments and moods using lighting and colour.
I remember this for the rest of my life.
Curious Shoes is a collaborative performance experience that can be shared by those living with dementia alongside their family members and carers. The aim is to create new moments of connection for the audience members and Curious Shoes was developed with those people in mind and at its heart.
To provide the best environment for individual engagement, each performance is limited to 20 audience members with ‘curated’ seating arrangements, taking into account their preferences, needs and abilities. Additionally, we advertised and split performances into:
Pure dead brilliant. Better than Prozac!
For people with dementia still living at home and those visiting day centres, attending with their partners, friends, children, family members and carers.
I just wanted to say how overwhelmed we were by today’s production in regard to the delightful performance generally and specifically in regard to how it affected Leila given her current level of dementia.
I think we said very briefly to Magdalena that Leila thoroughly enjoyed the performance and I think that was evident with her level of interaction. Rarely recently have we seen Leila so intrigued and engaged and clearly enjoying what was going on before her. It was a joy to watch the performance but also to watch Leila’s expressions as the play unfolded. We were quite emotional, both myself and Morag to see it.
That was so emotional. It’s absolutely the best thing I have ever been to! To see their reaction. To see these people… I am amazed!
Many care home groups and day centres brought a number of their residents to the theatre venues to be part of a Curious Shoes performance. Most care home performances were oversubscribed and some centres brought residents back on repeat visits, because they had responded so positively to the experience. Several members of the audience continued talking about the experience on their way home with some even revisiting memories of Curious Shoes later in the day – which care staff reported as extraordinary, considering the fairly advanced stages of dementia of their residents.
Everybody was just amazing and so welcoming. The participation in dancing and instruments was great. They also really liked the old suitcases and the silly things the cast did with them. They were very animated on the bus home. The youthful energy was infectious. Also liked the fact they listened to what they were saying – [the residents] felt they had had a real conversation with real people.
One resident was collected by car by their family member and they went independently to the show. It was really lovely and so special for them to share the experience together as a couple. There was real value in that and there are so few opportunities outside the home for people to socialise together in an appropriate environment.
However, due to differing abilities and physical, as well as medical, restrictions, a trip to the theatre was not possible for many residents. We, therefore, decided to deliver pilot performances of Curious Shoes in two care homes to see if it would be feasible to include those settings in future touring.
For those living in care homes and attending with their professional carers In 2017, Curious Shoes:
Festival Theatre Studio, Edinburgh
Capital Theatres Edinburgh (formerly Festival and Kings Theatres Edinburgh) was a key partner venue and pivotal in providing suitable and accessible space for the development, rehearsal and premiere of Curious Shoes at Festival Theatre Studio in March 2017. Due to their genuine commitment to make their buildings accessible to people living with dementia and regarding them as highly valued audience members, they provide dementia training for all their staff. Festival Theatre Studio was the ideal venue in which to work with our focus group of experts, develop the Curious Shoes approach and host the premiere and first six performances.
The interactions were incredibly effective. They seemed to refresh everyone in the audience, and bring them back in different ways. After the performer first came out to the audience, granny took on a totally different approach to the thing – as if she was amongst a group of friends, and we are all having a lovely time. It is kind of like a bunch of good friends putting on a show.
It seemed that everything that she wanted was there. It seemed like it was made for her. From the moment she arrived, she was immediately into the experience. The opportunity to sing and dance. Halfway through dancing she said, ‘I’m feeling dizzy’, and I offered to sit down and she said, ‘no! I’m just saying, hold me up! I’m staying dancing!’
To look at her this morning, and to look at her this evening, it is quite clear that she has got an excited buzz that I haven’t seen for a while.
This is the best show I have seen since I have started working here.
During our tour in autumn 2017, Curious Shoes was warmly welcomed by venues, staff and audiences alike at Platform in Glasgow, The Barn in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, and The Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock. We were pleased to have our performances included in Luminate, Scotland’s Creative Ageing Festival. As part of the tour we were also delighted to deliver Artful Minds training to 20 artists interested in expanding their insights, skills and confidence in working with people living with dementia.
The care and attention devoted to each group and individual audience member from the Curious Shoes team worked really well. The production values were very high indeed. The atmosphere and tone of the work felt fun and celebratory.
The show allowed us to make contact with a great deal of new audience members – many of which are particularly hard to reach. I think the show leaves the venue and staff team more aware of those living with dementia and their loved ones and what their needs and demands are when attending a show.
The experience has, I have no doubt, left the staff team more confident about providing a quality experience for audiences living with dementia and more receptive about hosting similar work in the future.
A very well judged performance. The performers were so comfortable and confident being with people with dementia. It was lovely to see them connecting with our residents.
Although Curious Shoes was specifically developed as an interactive experience for theatre and community settings, we delivered pilots at Simeon House, Aberdeenshire, and Kincaid House in Greenock, which proved extremely successful. Granted, that within theatre settings the performance has high production values and production elements, we have effectively managed to translate the experience to care home locations – without the use of a set design or theatre lighting – purely concentrating on the interaction with the residents.
It was fantastic. Excellent! Do come back. I will look out for you.
Our aim is to tour Curious Shoes widely to theatre and community venues and into care homes, including to geographic areas where creative provision for people living with dementia is limited. Where there is interest, we also envisage including training for venue staff and artists and engaging with local communities.
I will cherish this forever.
In 2014 I was awarded a multi-year Breakthrough Fund grant by The Paul Hamlyn Foundation. The purpose of the grant was to enable me to develop and expand my artistic practice by spending dedicated time researching other art forms in order to create a bespoke theatre approach for people living with dementia. Research highlights included participation at the Meet Me at MoMA and Dance for Parkinson’s programmes in New York, a visit to Dementia Village De Hogewey in Holland as well as a cross-arts multi- disciplinary residency, at Wiston Lodge. This residency was facilitated by ceramic artist, Carol Sinclair and included contributions from specialists in the fields of design, movement, music, visual arts and an NHS dementia consultant.
The creative research time resulted in the development of both Curious Shoes, a bespoke interactive performance approach and Artful Minds, a unique training initiative for artists, of all art forms, to increase engagement with people living with dementia. Artful Minds allows artists and creative practitioners to understand more about the experience of living with dementia and provides them with insight, skills and confidence to engage and elicit different kinds of creative responses.
I would like to thank a number of individuals and organisations, without whose support, contributions and inspiration I would have not been able to achieve my vision:
The Paul Hamlyn Foundation, in particular Ushi Bagga, Régis Cochefert and Kate Tyndall; everyone at Hearts & Minds, in particular Janice Taylor and Zoe Van Zwanenberg; everyone at Festival Theatre Edinburgh, particularly Paul Hudson; Prof June Andrews; Prof Brendan McCormack; Michael Duke; Gemma Greig-Kicks; Peter Lerpiniere; David Leventhal; Tim Licata; Lucy Mason; Maggie Maxwell; Vina Oberlander; Tony Reekie; Cerin Richardson; Cai Tomos; Jim Tough; and my mentor Marc Rees.