Opera North To Hold First Dementia Friendly Performance

15th May 2019

Leeds to host England’s first dementia friendly opera performance
All staff to be trained as Dementia Friends
Taster performance and pilot project to take place in community settings
To mark Dementia Action Week which runs from 20-26 May, Opera North, one of the city’s largest arts organisations, has announced plans to stage England’s first dementia friendly opera performance this Autumn. Specialist dementia training will also be offered to every member of staff, raising awareness of the condition across the company.

La bohème, Puccini’s popular tale of love and loss among young Bohemians in Paris, has been chosen for the matinee performance which will be held at Leeds Grand Theatre on Thursday 24 October. The opera will be performed in full and will feature reduced lighting and noise contrast, low level lighting in the auditorium and a relaxed approach to audience members coming and going during the show. There will be a quiet room set aside for those who need it, increased signage to help people navigate their way around a potentially unfamiliar setting, and plenty of staff to ensure everyone feels at ease.

Before the performance, the La bohème cast and all Opera North staff will be given Dementia Friends training to gain a greater understanding of what it is like to live with dementia, the effect it may have on someone and how best to make them feel valued and supported. The company will also be working closely with Peer Support Service (Adult Social Care), a Leeds-based dementia charity and member of Opera North’s community engagement Encore Scheme, to ensure the performance is fully meeting the needs of those with dementia as well as their families and carers.

Alice Gilmour, Access Officer for Opera North, said:

“At Opera North, we’re committed to breaking down any barrier which prevents someone from experiencing opera. We were particularly keen to hold a dementia friendly performance with so many people and their families affected by the condition and the limitations it can place on their lives.

“Research continues to show the hugely beneficial effect which music can have on those affected by dementia, tapping into memories and encouraging a response even when verbal abilities have been lost. As one of the best-known and most popular operas with a score which many will recognise, La bohème felt like the perfect work for us to offer in a dementia friendly format. We look forward to making it a special experience for everyone involved.”

Reflecting its decision to place dementia awareness at the heart of the company, Opera North has also joined the Dementia Friendly Leeds campaign, a partnership between Leeds Older People’s Forum, Alzheimer’s Society and Leeds City Council which assists any organisation, business or individual who wants to work towards becoming dementia friendly, raising awareness and making their services more accessible.

Jude Woods from the Friendly Communities Project based at Leeds Older People’s Forum, said:

“It’s fantastic to hear that Opera North are offering their first dementia friendly performance – this is a good example of the wide range of opportunities for people who are living with dementia across the city. The Dementia Friendly Leeds campaign aims to ensure that people who are living with dementia remain an active part of their community and initiatives like this mean that they can keep doing the things they enjoy most, like going to the theatre.”

To engage people who might struggle to access live performance or who feel more comfortable in a setting they recognise, the Community Partnerships team will also be taking music away from the stage and into community venues, including care homes in the region. Soprano Bibi Heal, accompanied by accordionist Miloš Milivojević, will sing excerpts from La bohème alongside a selection of other French-style songs. In addition, three dementia settings will be working with singer-songwriter Joanna Eden on a special pilot project based around La bohème and featuring a pop-up Parisian café.

Opera North offers a wide range of services to help people with access needs fully enjoy live performances in Leeds and on tour. These include audio described, captioned and sign interpreted performances.

La bohème Leeds’ Performance Diary:

Leeds Grand Theatre

Sat 12 Oct La bohème 7.30pm
Wed 16 Oct La bohème 7.30pm
Fri 18 Oct La bohème 7.30pm
Tue 22 Oct La bohème 7.30pm audio described
Wed 23 Oct La bohème 2.30pm
Thu 24 Oct La bohème 2.30pm dementia friendly
Thu 24 Oct La bohème 7.30pm
Sat 26 Oct La bohème 2.30pm sign interpreted
Sat 26 Oct La bohème 7.30pm