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Imagination Network inspired by Penelope

Documentary

When a theatre troupe is let loose in a 750-resident seniors’ care facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the results are surprising — and touching.

The Penelope Project, a documentary about how art activity engaged the young thespians and the older, infirm residents, screened at the Heritage Playhouse in Gibsons last Sunday, March 22.

The care facility project that took place over three years inspired Bruce Devereux, activities coordinator at Good Samaritan Christenson Village in Gibsons, to team up with the creative Chad Hershler of Deer Crossing, the Art Farm. Last week they launched The Imagination Network, an eight-month pilot project to blend art, health care and education.

Devereux visited Milwaukee and met the director Anne Basting. She is also the creator of TimeSlips, a story-telling activity that uses the imagination.

Devereux pointed out to the audience at the film last Sunday that several groups worked together to bring about changes in care: the Sojourn Theater troupe, an educational group and a health care group.

It wasn’t an easy time at first. In the film it’s evident that the three groups don’t all speak the same language, but gradually they came together to produce a play based on the classic story of Penelope waiting 20 years for the return of her husband Odysseus, a story drawn from Homer’s The Odyssey. By day, Penelope weaves; by night, she unravels her weaving to deter the many suitors who challenge her faithfulness. 

The new project will not use the concept of a play, but will build on the concept of TimeSlips, the dementia program that Basting has used.

“If it’s frustrating to try to remember,” Hershler said, “that can be turned into the joy of creation by using the imagination.” 

The next steps are focused almost entirely on building up the network, by reaching out to interested educational partners (universities and the local school district) to get them involved and to grow the circle of community participants. Devereux and Hershler ask that anyone who has a family member or friend dealing with dementia who is interested in learning more about this program to contact them. They want to grow the circle using the TimeSlips model beyond the Christenson Village residents, as well as ensure that as many caregivers and family of people with dementia can participate in the process of adapting these stories into short films, sound and theatre pieces. There may even be a ukulele component, given the popularity of the instrument at Christenson.

For more, contact chad@deercrossingtheartfarm.org or Dev-ereux at christensonvillage@mac.ca. See www.imaginationnetwork.ca for more.

For those who missed the screening, KCTS TV (PBS channel) will be showing The Penelope Project on April 19 at 2 p.m.