What is Planet A and how did it come about?
Planet A, from Venezia Productions, is a play about the inner world of Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is derived from persona poems I began to write following long days as an arts practitioner working with persons living with dementia. I developed arts engagement methods utilizing visual art, music, movement/dance, poetry and storytelling to connect and communicate with the people whom I served in various care communities.
Years later, these persona poems based on observation, imagination, and random yet profound statements from the residents were incorporated into this monologue-based play. The play also includes stories of others I’d witnessed in these settings. This play is a fully realized production, but I will add additional monologues added from time to time to reflect new circumstances I encounter.
Through theater and other forms of arts engagement we can continue to illustrate, amidst the good, the bad, and the ugly of this disorder, that people with dementia must be afforded the dignity they deserve. Besides living and working as a professional artist/artist strategist/arts practitioner, my mission as a community artist/cultural worker is to bring arts engagement to unlikely places. As founder of Care Through the Arts℠ and through my book, The Planet Alzheimer’s Guide: 8 Ways the Arts Can Transform the Life of Your Loved One and Your Own, I want caregivers to know that the arts experiences can bring light to the darkness of this disorder for both caregiver and the person whom they care for. My goal is to reach those who feel that they can’t make art, and prove that the arts are part of our innate need to creatively express ourselves and not just for a privileged or talented few.
What initially inspired you to grapple with dementia?
I needed a way to express my response to what I saw and heard at my work place when I got home each night as a professional arts practitioner working with those who were living with dementia and other disorders. Writing these persona poems—and eventually my play, Planet A—allowed me to set my feelings on paper and continue my work the next day, knowing I could find a way to manage my experience as I discover self-care through creative writing. This led me to create and facilitate my workshop, “Self-Care Through Creative Writing for Caregivers: Respite, Relaxation, Rejuvenation and Revelation” which I present at dementia-friendly conferences and retreats for caregivers, so informal and formal caregivers may utilize this creative outlet and sustain it for themselves as I had successfully had done for myself.
How has working on Planet A and other dementia-related art changed you?
My first experience with persons living with dementia was a summer job on my way to college, as the “arts and crafts teacher” in a care home. As an art major I used my instincts to create painting, music, dance/movement, and storytelling experiences for those who came into my room each day. It was a summer I will never forget because doing person-based care was so successful and rewarding. Even before this experience, I knew art should be for everyone, including older adults and those with special needs. Years later, I became a professional arts practitioner developing programs for well and frail older adults as well as those with dementia. My past experiences have profoundly influenced my art. Several of my plays have older adult characters as the leads, where dignity for these characters are always presented in these roles amidst the struggles, rather than as minor stereotypical characters. My how-to book, The Planet Alzheimer’s Guide, is a direct result of my pioneer work in arts engagement with those with dementia.
How has Planet A been received?
Planet A was well received by audiences on stage in New York and in its most recently sold out production in Los Angeles. This play has also had numerous dramatic readings throughout the US. On March 10, 2024, it will be staged in a full production at the Tarzana Community and Cultural Center in Tarzana, CA, on March 10, 2024. (Tickets will be available through https://www.mytarzana.org/)
Planet A has also been produced, often selling out, as a fundraiser and educational tool. Comment end But it wasn’t always so welcomed or understood. When the play debuted years ago in development in New York, with the title The Alzheimer’s Monologues, we filled the room, however, it was later often rejected on submission to subsequent theater companies and agents, citing the feedback: “People don’t want to see a play about Alzheimer’s.”
Due to Planet A’s intense quality but positive message of breaking down myths about dementia, I always have a Talk Back/Q&A after the show with me and the cast along with a professional from an Alzheimer/dementia-friendly organization. I have recently included a mini writing workshop after the show for those in the audience to process their reactions to the subject matter on paper.
This work is dedicated to: the hundreds of persons with dementia whom I’ve worked with for decades utilizing my methods of arts engagement over decades.