Knowledge as Embodied, Imaginative and Foolish Enactment: Exploring Dementia Experiences through Theater




arts-based research, research-creation, research-informed theater, performance research, cultural production, social change, dementia


In this article, we provide an example of a performance-research project to advance understandings of the ways artistic and scientific processes work in conversation. Drawing on the research-informed play Cracked: New Light on Dementia, we consider the interrelationship among cultural narratives (including the perpetuation of oppressive narratives of marginalized people), aesthetic and artistic exploration (sensory and emotional exploration together with dramaturgy and theatricality), and social critique for the purposes of broader social change. By explicating three interrelated "acts" of our process, including preparation, execution and exhibition (THOMPSON, 2015), we share the ways artistic practices were flexibly used to generate new cultural knowledge about the ways we think, feel, and sense about dementia to mobilize social good. With our work we criticize institutional and research structures that deny arts processes the status of "research," as well as challenge traditional modes of knowledge and knowledge production.


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Author Biographies

Julia Gray, University of Toronto

Julia GRAY is a playwright, theater director, arts-facilitator and scholar-researcher. She recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Bloorview Research Institute, fully affiliated with University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine, in Toronto, Canada. Her program of research crosses the arts, humanities, critical social sciences and health sciences to elucidate social experiences and overturn cultural assumptions of aging and disability.

Sherry L. Dupuis, University of Waterloo

Sherry DUPUIS is a professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies and the co-director of the Partnerships in Dementia Care Alliance at the University of Waterloo, in Canada. Informed by over 30 years of professional and research experience working with persons with dementia and their care partners, in her research program, Dr. DUPUIS uses participatory and arts-based research approaches as a means of promoting culture change in dementia care.

Pia Kontos, University of Toronto

Pia KONTOS is a senior scientist at the KITE-Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, University Health Network, and associate professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. In her research she focuses on structural and relational vulnerability to stigma associated with dementia in the context of community-based and institutional care settings, and the development and evaluation of arts-based initiatives to support ethical care relationships.

Christine Jonas-Simpson, York University

Christine JONAS-SIMPSON is an associate professor of nursing at York University and was the director of Philosophy and Academics at the Dotsa Bitove Wellness Academy for persons living with dementia (2014 to 2019). She conducts arts-based research through music, drama, paintings, and documentary film with the intent to open conversations and inspire ways of being that can transform the quality of living for persons, families and communities living with dementia.

Gail Mitchell, York University

Gail MITCHELL is professor emeritus of nursing at York University in Toronto, Canada. Her research interests include arts-based methodologies for creating and translating knowledge. She has worked with persons and families living with memory loss for more than 30 years.




How to Cite

Gray, J., Dupuis, S. L., Kontos, P., Jonas-Simpson, C., & Mitchell, G. (2020). Knowledge as Embodied, Imaginative and Foolish Enactment: Exploring Dementia Experiences through Theater. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 21(3).



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