We will produce the world premiere of a new chamber opera, called 'Take Care'. Carers are both the creative heart of this work and its intended audience. Dementia directly affects 800,000 people in the UK, plus many more who provide the social care needed for a life with dignity. In this opera we want to engage carers themselves with a heightened representation of day-to-day care for people with dementia. We choose the rich medium of opera to elevate the status of dementia care and to shine a light on the emotional labour of carers. The production will convey a rich and nuanced picture of the everyday, encouraging carers to reflect on their complex role, and showing others the challenges facing carers. It is timely because social care is high on the political agenda.
The project is based on extensive research into the working lives of those who care for people with dementia; both as family members and as paid professionals. With funding from Arts Council England/National Lottery and the Economic & Social Research Council.
The story of 'Take Care' centres on the working life of Katie, a carer for people living with dementia who is new on the job. Words by Cindy Oswin and music by Douglas Finch create a tapestry of humour & pathos, moving from comforting refrains of ‘tea and toast’ to frightening loss of identity, confusion, frustration and loneliness. The piece captures these often chaotic emotional contrasts as well as moments of insight and love in the carer’s everyday working life.
We follow Katie visiting her clients: Myrtle, well-off but lonely - troubled and confused by her relationship with her daughter; Joyce, often irascible, who used to feel great love and tenderness towards her husband Harry, but now hardly recognises him; Harry, proud of the work he used to do as a coal miner, now lamenting his growing physical frailty and his wife’s decline; and Eileen (represented by a puppet), in the late stages of dementia and at the end of life, but calm and content, spending much of her waking hours singing hymns.
The purpose of the opera is to portray the highs and lows of caring for someone with dementia, to create a greater understanding and appreciation of that role, both in the carers themselves and in the wider community. The innovative use of opera in Take Care’ elevates elevate this essential role through music, libretto, performance and staging.