Think Tank is a theater class for people with Alzheimer’s or early-onset
dementia. Through our DisAbility Project, we have worked with people
with a variety of cognitive abilities for over ten years. So we
were delighted to partner with the Alzheimer’s Association in St.
Louis and Cardinal Ritter Senior Services. Our theatre classes
are not only fun, they foster community through the creation of
performance pieces. (more...)
What we are doing...
When we tell people that, among recent projects, we have been
making theatre and creating performance with people with early
stage dementia and Alzheimer’s, they often express disbelief. Some
ask how we can do performances if most of the actors can’t memorize
lines or blocking. We usually widen the conversation by explaining
that we see performance as a series of consciously selected moments
for a given public. Under that definition, people with Alzheimer’s
can, indeed, make theatre and have a very good time doing it.
As the population of this country ages, the number of people with Alzheimer’s
disease is increasing dramatically. A recent estimate suggests that one in eight
people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s and that almost half a million people
65 and younger have early-onset dementia.
When it came to developing a theater class for people with early dementia, our
skills and experience laid a solid foundation. Through our DisAbility Project,
we have worked with people with a variety of cognitive abilities for over ten
years. So we were delighted to partner with the Alzheimer’s Association in St.
Louis and Cardinal Ritter Senior Services. In addition to being fun and fostering
community, our classes--among the first of their kind in the country--stimulate
cognition in participants.
The Alzheimer’s Association was founded in 1980 and is the world leader in Alzheimer
research and support. The association offers frontline support to individuals
affected by Alzheimer’s with services that include 24/7 information and referral
hotlines, safety services, and education and support groups. The St. Louis chapter
serves more than 65,000 families in the 38-county service area of St. Louis metro,
eastern Missouri and western Illinois.
Cardinal Ritter Senior Services provides services to improve the quality of life
for senior adults by promoting and providing social, health, and housing programs
and services in St. Louis City and County, as well as in St. Charles, Jefferson,
Franklin and Warren Counties. We conducted theatre classes for six months, working
with a group of around 15 people. Activities included icebreakers, theatre games,
singing, dancing, movement, improvisation and conversation.
Mike, a former high school drama teacher said, “Everyone should see us. People
think that we are just waiting to die but we’re not. We can still have fun and
do interesting things.” When asked how she felt about the class, Rosemary, a
former clerical worker started to cry. “I really like to come here,” she said.
“It’s different than being at home. Everyone is so nice and we laugh and have
a good time.”
We call our group the Think Tank Players and performed in April for the annual
Alzheimer’s Association Volunteer Appreciation Dinner in St. Louis for an appreciative
audience of several hundred people. Our performance consisted of dancing into
the room to Sly and the Stone’s
”Everyday People,” welcoming in the audience to sing a round with us, staging
a mock Cardinals baseball game in which a woman player hit a home run and a rousing
and choreographed version of a favorite song.
All of these pieces were work we developed and rehearsed in class. Uppity Artistic
Director Joan Lipkin directed the project, assisted by interns Jo Firestone from
Wesleyan University and Megan Flynn and Jessica Gibson from the Brown School
of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. We maintain an active intern
mentoring program in which graduate social work students learn about theatre,
our techniques and how it can promote self esteem, stimulate creativity and both
personal and collective agency with various populations. Photographer Marian
Brickner has documented the experience for a traveling exhibit.
Everyone should see us. People think that we are just waiting
to die but we’re not. We can still have fun and do interesting
Mike, former high school drama teacher
I really like to come here. It’s different than being at home.
Everyone is so nice and we laugh and have a good time.
Rosemary, former clerical worker
It was a pleasure to meet you at the recent Alzheimer’s Association
volunteer recognition dinner. We were struck by your dedication
to doing whatever you can to support people with Alzheimer’s and
Joan D’Ambrose, St. Louis Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association