I mentioned this here a little while ago anyway, but wanted to do a little after-the-fact post about it too because it ended up being a really fascinating, humbling learning experience that I was honoured to be a part of.
Back in 2017, Ben Target and Pope Lonergan launched a project called The Care Home Tour, which would see comedians performing in care homes to residents with dementia. On our side of the equation, it would be an opportunity to experiment with what types of humour and what sorts of ideas communicate to audiences in that condition, and to learn ways of presenting such ideas that allow the residents to engage with it in whatever way they want. But more importantly, the project would be an opportunity to present the residents with a different sort of shared communal experience to the ones they usually see, and this felt like a valuable project.
I was part of the work-in-progress shows to figure out the idea in 2017 but wasn't able to do any of the actual care home shows, so was delighted to perform in two shows as part of the Leicester Comedy Festival yesterday, and I found the whole experience incredibly rewarding. I went in with a handful of loose ideas - trying to dance while tied up with string, getting the residents to throw a hat onto my hat, trying to do impressions of my Grandad's woodwork, and so on. And I quickly found that the most important thing was to present those ideas with no ego or agenda or expectation for how they would be received, and to be ready to drop or abandon any idea that encouraged a resident to become involved, and instead to accommodate whatever they suggested into the idea. One lady who had been quite non-responsive in the first bit of my set suddenly lit up when I mentioned dancing and sort of tried to recreate a dance position in her chair; and another lady chipped in that I should be careful not to fall over while wobbling around tied up with string as it made me look like a rubbery Dolly Mixture man. I was also fortunate enough to have somebody in both audiences who used to do a lot of woodwork themselves, so would look at the things my Grandad made and give a verdict on them. I tried my best to just throw away anything else I was trying to achieve with any particular idea and let those moments be the purpose of the performance - for the residents to either interact with a live performance in a way they don't often get to do, or to re-engage with an aspect of their own lives that they perhaps don't often feel prompted to re-engage with.
This is not to say that care homes don't do an amazing job of putting on live entertainment to help stimulate the residents - I chatted to a lot of them yesterday and they told me about all the musicians and sing-alongs that they get to watch and enjoy. But there's something about putting on comedy in a care home that I think constitutes a different kind of stimulation for them - the fact that it's a fairly mutable, spontaneous, responsive kind of performance which can actually react and adapt to what they bring to it, so it enables them both to take part in a shared communal activity but also to interact directly with the performance on an individual level if they want to. All this has filled my head with thoughts about how comedy works and how it can be used to have a social function, but it's stuff I'll try to figure out in my own time.
In the meantime, an enormous thank you to Ben and Pope for organising the shows, and to Luke Rollason and Nathan Lang for sharing in the experience, and also a couple of huge thank yous to Leicester Comedy Festival for having us, and the Baring Trust for funding the project. I hope it goes on to even greater heights.