String theories: Puppet show performs stories by people with dementia

No strings attached: Florence, one of the puppet stars from “D-Generation,” playing at the Irondale Ensemble Project.
Photo by Conni Richards

This puppet show is no child’s play.

A Vermont-based theater group is bringing an innovative performance to Fort Greene’s Irondale Ensemble Project on Feb. 6 with “D-Generation: An Exaltation of Larks,” which uses puppets to highlight the creative abilities of elderly people with dementia.

“There’s an artist in every human being,” said Terry Greiss, executive director of the theater on South Oxford Street. “It keeps us alive.”

Sandglass Theater will be performing the show at Irondale for two weekends in February. The cast consists of three puppeteers, who are also characters in the play, operating five puppets that depict seniors suffering from late-stage dementia.The show’s producers wrote the play after running a series of workshops at a nursing home, where residents told a collaborative story based around visual prompts. They were shown pictures and asked to make up a story about what they saw.

The process, called “TimeSlips,” is designed to allow sufferers of dementia the opportunity to explore the creative aspects of their brain without worrying about reason or logic. The debilitating ailment generally affects a person’s cognition, but not necessarily their imagination.

“It’s a conversation based on a creative world rather than a concrete world,” said Eric Bass, a performer and one of the founders of Sandglass Theater. “For people with dementia, the creative world is reality.”After recording 40 such collaborative tales, the producers wrote a script that weaves some of the actual results of the exercise into a story about caregivers, patients, and their interactions.

The puppeteers perform the roles of the caregivers, and control the realistic-looking, wheelchair-bound puppets that play the patients. The story moves between conversations among the group and the characters’ inner thoughts.

“It’s a mixture of dreams and memories, and even fears and short-circuits,” said Bass.

The play also includes an animated video element and an original score. There is even a musical interlude that Bass calls a “wheelchair ballet.”“D-Generation” marks the first puppet show to be staged at Irondale, and Greiss said the production is worthy of the honor.

“The relationship between the puppet actors and the puppets is really important,” he said. “And when it’s good, you forget which is which.”“D-Generation: An Exaltation of Larks” at the Irondale Ensemble Project [85 South Oxford St. between Lafayette Avenue and Fulton Street in Fort Greene, (718) 488–9233,]. Feb. 6–8 and Feb. 13–15 at 7:30 pm, with a matinee at 3 pm on Saturdays. $15–$25.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Master of puppets: Sandglass performer Eric Bass with one of his “D-Generation” co-stars, a puppet named Florence.
Photo by Laura Bliss

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