According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, 25,000 people are diagnosed with a form of dementia every year, placing the affected families in unfamiliar situations that can effectively change their life. The team behind  Cracked: New Light on Dementia  have been making it their mission to correct the stigma associated with those suffering from Alzheimer’s, while depicting realistic struggles in the form of a play.

Cracked  is a research based theater production that was developed for the specific purpose of addressing the stigma that is associated behind dementia; a project that gained inspiration from the lack of progress made in the area by the traditional academic field. In fact, the production’s lead researcher, University of Waterloo’s own Sherry Dupuis, stated in an interview with Imprint, that it is common for the traditional academic field to perpetuate the stigma by using phrases that reference dementia as “the long goodbye” or the people affected as “the living dead.”

Dupuis (who has focused her career on cultural change in dementia care) and the rest of the team figured out that the tried-and-true methods for dispelling stigma, such as academic journals, were proving ineffective. They decided that a turn to the arts might get the message against the dehumanization of dementia across in a clear manner. So far, it has been effective, with audience’s reactions usually including “tears” and “reflecting on their own role” in the oppression of people with dementia, says Dupuis.

While it may not be conventional, the piece still has its foundations grounded in thorough studies conducted by Dupuis’ team of researchers and a dedicated crew taking place over several years. The research involved working with anyone, from families affected by dementia to professionals that deal with it on daily basis. Dupuis believes in endorsing and educating academic institutions about arts based research as a “means…to understand concepts,” the way they do it is “just different than what…scientists [do].”

Having performed the live play over fifty times since 2014, the crew is looking forward to the debut of the film version on Jan. 19, 2018 at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, in Toronto. The team was worried that the play wouldn’t be as effective if they “flipped the script” to make it fit the film medium, so instead this version is made up of the filming of three different play performances. Dupuis mentioned that they wished they could heed requests to tour the play, even internationally, but because of funding concerns, touring a film is the next best possible solution to spread their message.

Dupuis hopes that the film version will have the same emotional effect on the audience that the raw theatre production does when it tackles the elaborate subjects surrounding dementia. In this particular production she says “ Cracked  is about relationships.” From sexual to professional,

she continued by elaborating that it’s about “people with dementia, their families, and the policies that shape their experiences.”

The team isn’t done just yet as Dupuis hopes to study the effect of live theatre versus film in terms of audience reaction, and possibly write an additional play in the future that covers even more subject matter that  Cracked  could not incorporate into its sixty-minute timeframe.

Free tickets for the film premiere can be found online at snapd.com and with a rapid sale of tickets, there is an expected attendance of a full theatre.

Graphic above by Lea Clarin