tchristie's picture

By Dr Tom Christie

October 19th, 2014

SPOTLIGHT ON DEMENTIA: Joseph Travers’s Gran Dram Project

‘O for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.’  So spoke the Chorus in Shakespeare’s Henry V, perhaps among the most famous opening lines to appear in any of the Bard’s plays.  Certainly the appetite for performance art has not diminished in the centuries since the above dialogue was first heard by audiences, but it is doubtful that Shakespeare and his contemporaries could ever have imagined the applications that drama has come to play in a therapeutic context.  Yet today dramatic performance is actively improving the life experiences of individuals all around the world, and this is no less true for people who are affected by dementia.

Gran Dram is a performance art project which has been established by Edinburgh-based creative arts professional Joseph Travers.  An actor with much established experience of both performance and social care, Travers has received a number of arts awards over the course of his career as well as having earned a degree in youth and community development.  Building upon experiences gained across the British Isles in supporting people affected by conditions such as autism and dyslexia, with Gran Dram Travers has been adapting a new approach to dramatic arts for use in enhancing the life experience of people with dementia in fresh and innovative ways.

Taking the form of a highly versatile drama workshop, Gran Dram has been developed for the support of people who are resident in care homes and nursing homes.  The project is focused upon the goal of decreasing any sense of isolation amongst individuals who have dementia, fostering inclusiveness at all times and thus improving self-esteem and overall quality of life.  Reminiscence plays a central role in the process, encouraging participants to draw upon their own life experience as they take part in the workshop.

The development of characters and nurturing an awareness of self are key aspects of Gran Dram, promoting a philosophy of tolerance and acceptance which aims to overcome dementia’s potential to cause loneliness or despondency amongst those affected by the condition.  To this end, Travers has combined various scenarios and dramatic situations with facilitator-led activities incorporating song and movement, also utilising multi-sensory techniques in order to maximise the degree of service user involvement.  Taken in combination, his approach is remarkably wide-ranging and places great importance on the need to draw in the attention and interaction of people with dementia of all stages of advancement by using a broad spectrum of artistic methodologies.

Amongst the benefits of Gran Dram is a very real demonstration of the practical power of the arts to enhance lives.  Whether an individual affected by dementia is outgoing or introvert by nature,  or whether their condition has advanced to a moderate or later stage of progression, the variety of inclusion techniques employed by Travers makes it possible to engage with members of his audience in a meaningful and constructive way.  He takes obvious care to connect with his service users in a manner which allows for the most fully achievable range of dramatic and artistic participation to take place in any given session.  As well as the obvious emotional benefits that this kind of approach can bring, other positive advantages of Gran Dram can include an increase in individual wellbeing, greater social confidence, and an increase in physical mobility through involvement in particular activities related to the programme.

Travers’s project has already won him the praise of care professionals, and his efforts in encouraging people with dementia to realise their full personal potential through engagement with the arts have seen the programme become the recipient of a prestigious Melting Pot Social Innovation Incubator Award for the 2014/15 period. 

For more information about Gran Dram, the official website can be found at: grandram.wordpress.com