Memorable Theater for Those Untangling Dementia’s Impact

Through Jefferson collaboration, people with dementia, and students and healthcare professionals share their stories.

It’s not every day that you find medical students, nurses and residents taking time out of their already-packed schedules to care for themselves—let alone to practice and rehearsals for an original theater production. Yet, for the past few months, that’s been part of their routine as cast members of “Tangles In Time,” a show made possible through a collaboration between Jefferson and Theater of Witness.

Solely performed by people living with dementia, their care partners, health professionals and students, “Tangles” leans heavily on personal anecdotes and storytelling, creative skills and a deep level of empathy to bring to life the challenges of this progressive disease.

“Our health professionals and students are always striving to be the most compassionate providers they can be,” says Megan Voeller, director of Jefferson’s humanities and health program. “This production offers them an opportunity to walk in the shoes of care partners and people living with dementia and deepens their understanding of the experience of dementia and how it resonates in their own lives.”

Using live performance, original music, film and other imagery, “Tangles” invites all people to connect and build empathy, a concept very familiar to the Jefferson community. Students in the Sidney Kimmel Medical College pursue interests outside of medicine—as part of the curriculum—in tracks like population health, design and humanities. Thus, participation in projects like No One Dies Alone and “Tangles” have seen much interest from students and residents.

A women and man dancing
Jefferson's Sunny Lai and Penn's John Best prepare for the show.

“Being a physician is about being with a family through the mundane as well as the life-changing moments,” says Dr. Sunny Lai, a resident in family and community medicine and a “Tangles” cast member. She notes that being part of the production embodies the purest, most basic form of care that healthcare workers can provide. “It’s about long companionship and knowing their stories—and, if there are no more words, it’s about being with their soul.”

Jefferson’s collaboration with Theater of Witness began two years ago when the University received a $300,000 grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage for building empathy through the arts. Teya Sepinuck, Theater of Witness founder and artistic director, has directed over 35 original productions with people living through traumatic circumstances in Philadelphia, and as far away as Poland and Northern Ireland. The productions invite audiences to bear witness to real stories of suffering, transformation and peace.

“The performers in ‘Tangles’ have created a community of connection and brought joy to the subject of dementia, which is often laden with grief, stress and loss,” Sepinuck says. “Without shying away from the pain and difficulty of losing a loved one or caring for someone with dementia, their stories celebrate empathy, compassion, love and creativity.”

Visit here for additional info, and read more in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Citizen.

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