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Magdalena Schamberger's aim with her drama Curious Shoes coming to Eden Court is to change how people with dementia are being looked at

By Margaret Chrystall

IF you look down all the time and suddenly spot unusual shoes, chances are you will look up to see who is wearing them.

That was the starting point for Curious Shoes, a show that has already awakened the interest of those living with dementia, their relatives and carers across the country.

Magdalena Shamberger came up with the play having worked through drama with older people with dementia for 18 years and noticing that the ‘here and now’ sparks their interest.

“When I first went into a home in the Borders, I felt it was so wonderful to sit down with the people there and create some light, life and bring some positive energy from a situation you feel might be boring and unstimulating. Care staff have all the caring duties, but on that visit, I was able to give those in the home undivided attention and it just opened them up.”

After growing up in Austria, studying acting in Paris then coming to Scotland to work, Magdalena co-founded but has now stepped back from a charity organisation called Hearts and Minds, created in 1997.

It runs the Clown Doctors for sick children and the Elderflowers programme for elderly people with dementia.

But Magdalena moved on from Hearts and Minds in 2014 when she was awarded the Paul Hamlyn Breakthrough Grant and decided to use the money to research and develop Curious Shoes and her training, Artful Minds, for artists to engage with people with dementia.

“They are my two babies!” Magdalena laughed.

She wants to challenge assumptions and change ideas about the creative potential of people living with dementia.

“I don’t see the point of focusing on the past.

“I focus on the starting point of the here and now and use people’s imagination – which they still have – to project into the possibilities and what there ‘could’ be.

“This is how Curious Shoes really works. The things that stay longest with people with dementia are creativity, humour and rhythm. In Curious Shoes it is the rhythm of the shoes and movement and language.

“But also people who have been creative will rediscover – or can rediscover – their creativity.

“I think imagination does not die, people are just not given the opportunity to imagine.”

A colourful scene from Curious Shoes. Picture: Eoin Carey
A colourful scene from Curious Shoes. Picture: Eoin Carey

Magdalena created Curious Shoes – carefully devised and developed with a focus group of dementia sufferers and relatives – to provide the chance for somebody with dementia to share the experience of a live performance in a relaxed setting.

The show comes to life through music, movement, evocative pictures but few words. Shoes are very important to four performers loosely based on film characters – includingFred Astaire in Funny Face, Bette Davis in Now Voyager and Charlie Chaplin in City Lights.

Magdalena said: “It’s a mixture of structure – and of a storyline, if people still want to follow one. Everything is allowed. So if somebody wants to get up, or help, or say or do something, it doesn’t matter. At the end, everyone is encouraged to dance and can dance on stage.

“A lady came here yesterday with a care home and after the performance the care stuff said ‘You fulfilled her dream, she has always wanted to dance on stage’.

“With Curious Shoes, the bigger picture for me is that I really want to change how people with dementia are being looked at.”

Curious Shoes is at Eden Court, Inverness, on Tuesday, June 18 at 11am and 2.30pm.

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