Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice

Performance art in hospice care

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students collaborate with hospice patients to create performance art.

A link between The Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland offers a unique opportunity for patients and students to work together.

Starting on 6 March 2017, the seven-week project will give day services patients the chance to work on a piece of performance art with students from various departments within the schools of dance, drama and music.

Through informal chats, everyone will get to know each other and find common points that can be explored artistically. Every week the students will lead performance workshops by bringing a range of games, exercises and techniques. The idea is to explore how to make new performances based on the conversations that follow.

Similar to the art-making process that already takes place in the hospices art room, instead of making a painting, patients and students will collaborate to create moments of performance.

The only undergraduate performance project of its kind in the country to work with palliative care patients, the arts in medical contexts module is now in its third year.

“The performance making process could involve the reading or singing of a text, a sequence of dance movements, making a new arrangement of familiar objects, or any other action that has personal meaning or is interesting to do,” said Steven Anderson, lecturer in visual performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s department of contemporary performance practice.

“The patients work collaboratively with the students through conversation and practical exercises to discover what shared interests could become the basis of making performance actions. There is no predetermined requirements or themes given to the patients and students but they are given structured time together to find their own shared theme for exploring as performance.

“There is often an element of inter-generational working due to a general difference in age between many of the patients and students. This is normally very positive as there is an exchange of energy which benefits both groups and each group enjoys a rare opportunity to spend focused time with people younger or older than themselves.
“Later on in the workshops there will be an opportunity for the participants to show the performance actions to the rest of the group, these are called sharings because the focus is on the shared moment between artist and audience.”

Kirsty Stansfield, an artist at The Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice, said the project offers patients new and creative ways for thinking about the body and how they move and interact with their environment.

“The performance art project really relates to the approach we use in the art room, but instead of a pencil or a brush, the body is the starting point for the art work,” she said.

“It is important that patients have autonomy over the creative choices they make, what subject matter they want to work with, what form should this take, for example: spoken word, movement, video, song, music, arranging objects; and how might different elements be combined.

“It is great to see how the day services lounge is transformed by the activity and the conversations that take place. It is a completely different atmosphere.

“We have seen how much the patients enjoy trying something new and to be able to help the students out, and the students take away so much from the experience. Their perceptions of what a hospice is and older people is challenged, but also what creativity and engagement can be may be different to what they expected."

Innovative approaches to creating art are nothing new in Glasgows Hospice. The art room has developed from a two-year project in 2003 into the full service it is today.

The art room staff are all passionate believers in the benefits of engaging with creativity to gain a sense of wellbeing and believe in the value of each and every mark or word made by the people they work with.

As graduates and practitioners with active art and creative writing practices of their own, they have more than 30 years' combined experience in working in the area of arts and health, and bring a range of skills to the hospice.

Their approach is centred on the process of mark-making, giving voice to words and ideas, experimentation and discovery. They strive to support people by offering them choices and a sense of control.

In achieving a sense of autonomy and agency, they can regain some control and independence in their lives, often taken away by illness, disability or caring responsibilities.

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