Behind the Mask
WP Puppet Theatre brings a mask-making workshop to people living with dementia
From Dementia Connections Magazine
September 10, 2018
by Jennifer Freisen
When the team from WP Puppet Theatre first walked through the doors of Club 36 — an Adult Day Program operated by the Alzheimer Society of Calgary — last fall, they came bearing a strange gift: a box full of plain white masks. The masks didn’t stay plain for long. They were soon transformed by members of the Club’s day program, who adorned them with vivid colours, family photos, mementos and even a few butterfly stickers.
It was the first time the puppetry-infused workshop, dubbed View from the Inside: Courage Journey, took its mission to people living with dementia. According to Wendy Passmore-Godfrey, founder of the WP Puppet Theatre, the workshop’s goal is to support mental wellness by giving people the chance to create masks that reflect themselves.
“The [masks] are a springboard to conversation,” says Passmore-Godfrey, who explains that each mask communicates on multiple levels by using symbols and metaphors. The front is painted to show the face the individual presents to the world, while the inside collage reflects the inner self with photographs and personal imagery. Attachments also hang by strings off the mask’s sides to show the person’s attachment to their past and community.
“It’s about self-reflection, where you dig deep into colours and the memories associated,” says Passmore-Godfrey. “That self-realization is a big thing for people, because you’re looking back on your life and deciding what are the most important pieces in your history.”
Last fall, the workshop at Club 36 connected nursing students at the University of Calgary with people living with dementia to create art. Third-year nursing student Sydney Flodstedt was there for all six sessions of the program.
She spent the semester working one-on-one with a woman who was advanced in her dementia diagnosis, so she couldn’t ask many specific questions about her past. However, on the first day of the View from the Inside workshop, Flodstedt noticed that her partner was drawn to blue and green paints, which allowed the duo to delve into a conversation.