As part of a 45-date tour across both sides of the equator, the touching story of It’s Dark Outside heads to Sydney’s west next week. Two of the production’s three creators, Arielle Gray and Tim Watts, took five to talk us through their exploration of Alzheimer’s disease and Sundowning Sydrome via the mechanism of animation, puppetry and live performance.
Talk us through the concept of It’s Dark Outside.
TW: We started with the idea of wildness. In the beginning we were playing with all sorts of things: gorillas, the Wild West, a Tarzan-esque child, an old man. When we generate content for the shows we are making, we do it by getting into a space, bringing a whole bunch of stuff and playing. We had gorilla puppets, cowboy boots, we made a crude wild boy puppet, and we got an old man mask off the internet; heaps of stuff.
Eventually we realised we were creating two different storylines; one was the gorilla and the wild boy and the other was the Wild West and the old man. We chose the old man.
The play certainly deals with a powerful topic. Why did you choose to tell the story without dialogue?
TW: I think we like finding new ways of telling stories. Puppetry is a really great device to play with – a puppet can do so many things that a physical body onstage cannot do (or at least on this production). I also think you can get away with more when you use a puppet; people are more willing to go with it than they would with a human standing in front of them talking.
What experience and research did you draw on for the production?
AG: Tim’s grandparents (and later my grandparents) at that time were suffering from dementia and Tim and I discovered a phenomenon in dementia patients called Sundowning Syndrome. At sunset, dementia patients who ‘sundown’ become more agitated and confused and are more likely to wander. This idea really fascinated us – that there was this inbuilt urge to want to escape outside at sunset. That became our central image: an old man wanders into the wild at sunset.
Have you been surprised by audience reactions? Do you bring people to laughter or tears, or everywhere in between?
TW: I wouldn’t say surprised. For me the nicest responses are talking to people after the show about how they have been going through family members or loved ones suffering from Alzeimer’s or dementia and how the play treats the topic with care and beautiful insight. It’s nice to have that feedback; it’s quite touching and in some ways more than we could ever have hoped for.