By Leslie Eckford
I recently attended a unique theater experience. Deemed an “ethnodrama,” Portrait of a Caregiver uses the documented conversations of real family caregivers as the script of this powerful one act play. The conversations were recorded in a series of caregiver support groups with the permission of the participants. Support groups provide a space for family caregivers to discuss many facets of the their life experience: frustration, exhaustion, loss of personal identity, humor and heartbreak. This literary device allows the real words and feelings of family members who care for elder relatives to be shared with the audience in an authentic way.
Portrait of A Caregiver is joint project with the Utah Caregiver Support Program, the University of Utah College of Nursing and the Hartford Change AGEnts Initiative. The collaboration brings the performing arts, the needs of unpaid family caregivers and aging individuals in long term care to focus on the actual conversations and feelings to a wider audience.
I watched the performance presented at the 2016 Generations Conference, held annually in Salt Lake City, Utah. Members of the audience included geriatric care managers, professional caregivers, geriatric mental health therapists and long term care professionals. Many of us are also family caregivers, some close and some from a distance. From the post performance question and answer session, it was clear that we were intensely moved by the intimate thoughts and feelings expressed by the actors portraying caregivers and their family elders In a spot on performance by Walk On, Inc, a non profit theatre company in Utah, I can attest that these terrific actors conveyed the inner lives of caregivers with great care and genuineness. Seamlessly moving from portraying an exasperated daughter who realizes that her own life is on hold for an undetermined time, to an elder who does not recognize her own daughter, to a gay son who does not understand why extended family expect his sister to be the caregiver and don’t credit his role and effort, the group of four actors expressed multiple facets of the daily lives of caregivers.
Kudos also to the playwright, Jacqueline Eaton RN, PhD of the University of Utah College of Nursing and to Nancy Madsen DHS of the Utah Caregiver Support Program for this great concept and production. There will be more information available in time and,we hope, a future link to video of Portrait of a Caregiver to share with a larger audience.