Tea and puppets
Karin Jashapara (pictured) is the founder of the Play of Light theatre company, which uses shadow puppets to prompt discussions about dying and death.
During last year's Dying Matters Awareness Week, Play of Light staged two performances of Karin's play 'Death in a Nut', hosting a vintage tea party after each to encourage audience members to discuss what they had watched and their thoughts and feelings about dying and death in general. Karin tells us how it went.
A tea party has grown-up around our puppet show, 'Death in a Nut'. It might be a humble cup of juice and a biscuit in a school hall, or the vintage crockery, homemade cake and shelves of books to browse which we had at the Imagine Arts Festival in Sutton, South London. It doesn’t matter: the welcome to stay and talk is still unequivocal. There are always the fresh flowers in funky teapots and the art activity: colouring or writing on card teapots and garments, which refer back to the domestic setting of 'Death in a Nut'.
And there are always the conversations.
"Decorating the paper clothing helped the audience to interact with each other" - Tess on ‘Death in a Nut’ at Barefoot Books, Oxford 2014
We planned the art activity as a release for the private feelings the story could stir up, but as Tess points out in the quote above, it makes a communal space for the audience to unwind together from the intensity of the show, whether they choose to speak about it or not.
The famous British cup of tea has also worked well in helping the flow of conversation.
"I personally found myself talking with my colleague about a personal bereavement, without even realising it. It felt very natural and unexpected. It's such a personal thing to share that inevitably it brings you closer to someone" - an arts officer
An Irish visitor came along with her two grandsons and the hope and expectation that she would be able to discuss dying and death afterwards. She told us that she’d informed the 14-year-old he could be on his phone if he wanted to, as long as he was there. Apparently he watched pretty much the whole thing. "They need to hear this," she said. "In Ireland it’s so different, you know, the way we cope with death. You can talk about it. There’s the open coffin, the wake...
"I’m always showing my grandchildren things that will still be there long after I’ve gone, that they can remember me by: a special tree, a place. I feel I must prepare them, so it’s not too much of a shock when I go."
A Japanese parent told me her story: "In Japan we believe that we never lose our grandparents. They are in our DNA. They are always there in our memories and how we live. It is so important for my children to see this story and talk about it. My English husband did not want the children to attend his parents’ funerals. ‘Why not?’ they asked, ‘We want to say goodbye to granny’. But he felt it would be too hard for them, so they couldn’t go."
The conversations I heard about or took part in could be as intense as haikus, so personal and deep that they are hard to repeat in public.
One reason for death being a taboo subject is surely that the feelings around it risk being unmanageably powerful. But there was a lot of referencing of other traditions, which can help us to move on.
The conversation continues, thanks to our hosts and funders, and to our audiences, who enter into the spirit of the occasion with such warmth and openness.
Watch the 'Death in a Nut' trailer
Death in a Nut will return to the Kicking the Bucket Festival, Oxford, in October 2016. Find out more about the festival.
Image of Karin Jashapara courtesy of Images © Bill Mudge 2015