Silver Strands was an interdisciplinary, collaborative project that evolved from a series of drama workshops in a residential mental health setting in West Cork.
The project took place in 2015 and was supported by West Cork Mental Health Services.
Facilitator Alison Glennie collaborated with sound designer Fintan McKahey in documenting the project which resulted in the short film, Silver Strands.
Male and female residents aged 50 - 80 from Perrott House, a community mental health setting in Skibbereen, West Cork.
- To use vocal energisers, guided imagery, reminiscence, movement to music and relaxation techniques to encourage participants to identify and vocalise common themes that described their life experiences.
- To record and interpret the places and sounds recalled by participants and transform this into a short film.
- To combine video and audio clips with an original score and produce a film which would provide an aide-memoire for contributors.
- To provide a resource by incorporating an instructional video on relaxation into the film.
- To explore new methods of documenting participatory arts and health practice.
- To demonstrate how the creative arts can help in the recovery process.
Over a period of 20 weeks, 30 residents took part in weekly workshops, with a core group of 12 emerging as regular attendees.
Initially the term ‘drama’ was omitted, as the word can conjure up inaccurate expectations of performance, creating unnecessary stressors for participants. ‘Self-discovery through sound and movement’ was the descriptor chosen, which referenced spoken word, music and exercise, so as to accurately reflect the activities employed. The group's acceptance of each individual's ideas during the brainstorming process, and their eventual inclusion into the short film, adhered to the principles of the recovery model, while enhancing group ownership over the end product.
As the participants were not familiar with the facilitator or methods, it was anticipated that a level of mistrust would be present which would inhibit vocal contributions during the developmental stage. Staff at the centre felt that only non-identifying images should be sought from participants on this initial project as many people still perceive there to be a stigma around the area of mental health.
Each week the television was switched off and the space rearranged to demonstrate that a different activity was about to take place. Relatively quickly a core group gravitated towards this different section of the room, anticipating the workshop. The centre benefits from a landscaped garden, so when the weather permitted, members of the group were encouraged to accompany the facilitator outdoors. This energised some, shifted focus and provided film footage which acknowledged the group's appreciation of flora and fauna.
An ice-breaker was provided by two residents who offered to play their musical instruments. This audio was later incorporated into the soundtrack.
'In composing the soundtrack, my reference point was the audio clip of the accordion captured during one of the early workshops.' - Fintan McKahey, sound designer
As residents grew more comfortable and were able to recount anecdotes, a few participants dismissed tales offered from those with levels of dementia as 'nonsense'. It was suggested to the group that in the context of drama every story had value, which supports the Hearing Voices model. This approach sanctions freedom of thought and the subsequent outpourings became more creative.
Journeys were discussed and four residents enjoyed an outing to their chosen coastal locations, accompanied by the documenters and HSE staff.
'The outing proved successful as it improved cohesion within the group, in addition to creating shared memories. It helped build a level of trust prior to attempting additional audio recording on site.' - Fintan McKahey
The key artistic output was Silver Strands, a 10-minute HD film documented by Alison Glennie in collaboration with Fintan McKahey.
Lead facilitator Alison Glennie chose to work predominantly with improvisation, a technique which encourages creative thinking. Glennie visited many of the locations identified by the group as holding special significance for them and made video recordings at these places. An unstructured approach to the project helped create a relaxed atmosphere and allowed for greater flexibility and artistic input. Descriptive words/phrases were selected by participants, which, together with occasional unexpected vocal offerings, were recorded at various times and incorporated into the layered audio track. All these diverse elements combined to produce a personal record in film, specific to the group of residents at Perrott House.
'It was very successful. Ms. Glennie has built an effective alliance with the residents and staff of Perrott House.' - Dr. Pat Bracken, Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Director, West Cork Mental Health Services.
The workshop facilitator maintained reflective journals throughout. Notes were recorded after each session and kept on file at the centre, making them available to nursing staff. The sound designer recorded his own observations and met with the facilitator at regular intervals to chart progress, exchange ideas and develop the soundtrack.
Once the final edit was available, small groups at Perrott House were shown the film on a laptop. Feedback was then elicited from the participants at these follow up sessions.
Exposure to new ideas proved stimulating and the group welcomed the opportunity to talk about their lives, as evidenced by the high uptake in participation. The challenging behaviour of two residents dissipated after receiving praise for their articulate contributions.
Relaxation techniques proved popular and their inclusion in the film created an ongoing resource for the group, in DVD format. A DVD player was installed in the centre, allowing for future presentation of filmed material.
Participant feedback on viewing Silver Strands:
'The power of water, it’s tranquil.' - Male participant
'The water made me feel calm, the horizon was white and peaceful.' - Male participant
'I enjoyed the birds flying around, it made me think of dancing.' - Female participant
'I remember all about that, he gave me a pearl ring.' - Female participant on seeing an image of her own hand
Challenges included the long lead-in required to obtain consent forms and the need for boundaries to be put in place to respect the art form being explored and to minimise noise and interruptions. Problematic dentures proved an impediment to gathering intelligible voice recordings.
'It was a constant trade-off between achieving a recording of sufficient technical quality or capturing a natural, honest sound-bite.' - Fintan McKahey
Having established familiarity, trust and confidence in the process, a further film project could be developed which would support the residents in their personal development by allowing them to explore their experiences in greater depth. Funding would be required to document future workshops.
Documentation & Dissemination
Documentation from the project has been retained on file at Perrott House, available to HSE staff.
A DVD of Silver Strands was made available to participants and it is hoped that there will be further screenings of Silver Strands in autumn 2015. The film can be viewed on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/125147290
January to May 2015
West Cork Mental Health Services
West Cork Mental Health Services
Friends of Perrott House
Cork Education and Training Board
Friends of Perrott House
Alison Glennie, Fintan McKahey
Drama, Film, Music
Nature of Project
Collaborative/ participatory, Exhibition, Training/ Continuous Professional Development