In this series, The Arts in Palliative Care, we look at how the arts in palliative care settings can be a powerful and effective way of addressing the practical, psychological, social and spiritual issues that face people at the end of their lives.
An Irish hospice teamed up with a theatre company resulting in a remarkable show about daily hospice life. Regina McQuillan, Medical Director, St Francis Hospice, Dublin, and Sarah Jane Shiels and Sophie Motley of the WillFredd Theatre Company, explain some of the practical and ethical challenges they faced in creating the show.
WillFredd as a theatre company works by integrating into a community. CARE resulted from the integration of director, Sophie Motley, and designer, Sarah Jane, Shiels into the working lives of palliative care workers over the course of 14 months, by visiting the canteen and getting to know the staff.
Working together, we had specific conversations with the staff and interviewed doctors, nurses, care assistants, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, complementary therapists, chaplains, volunteers and security staff. Two work-in-progress pieces were developed, as the company felt strongly that the work should be shown to hospice staff and the artistic community and feedback received.
The biggest challenge was how to negotiate patient confidentiality. WillFredd’s work engages constantly with a community and, for the first time, WillFredd had to limit the access of the group as a whole to some of the information. It is an interesting balance to consider when working in arts and health. We asked one of the doctors in the hospice to invent a character and case study for us, and hence, our main character, Anne, came into being. In this way, the piece was factually accurate, containing real and typical information, but it was also invented so it did not breach any confidentiality.
Another challenge was where to place the patient. In the hospice setting, the patient is the focus. There have been many theatrical productions dealing with end-of-life care, and the patient is very often the main character. With CARE, we wanted to foreground the people working for the patient. We found that whenever we asked a performer to play the part of the patient, the focus immediately went straight to them and our intention was lost. Our solution was to use a mannequin as our patient – ‘Anne’ – an inanimate object whose importance and presence onstage was the result of the attitudes of the performers around her. She was at once their patient and their tool, she could be cared for and discarded as a prop when needed.
CARE opened in Dublin in 2014, and then toured nationally around Ireland, significantly to both theatres and hospices in each county we visited. WillFredd hosted numerous post-show discussions, some focusing on the artistic elements of the show, others specifically on the medical and palliative care.
Through long-term engagement with the palliative care community, WillFredd created a new audience who attended the final production. Our artistic representation received positive feedback from the healthcare workers. Many of our audience attended due to a family or friends receiving palliative care. We gained very positive feedback from this audience demographic, many of whom found themselves very moved and at the same time surprised at how much humour was in the production.
- YouTube – watch the trailer of the video.
- St Francis Hospice.
- Contact Dr Regina McQuillan by email.
- Contact Sarah Jane Shiels and Sophie Motley by email.
Read more posts in the Arts and Palliative Care series on the EAPC Blog.