Our researchers will test an 8-week Devised Theatre Performance Process, which we hypothesize will improve the psychosocial well-being and cognitive function of people in the chronic phase of stroke (stroke >6 months ago), with a protocol currently in development.

Theatre Stroke Recovery

In a 2018 pilot project, Dr Linden Wilkinson worked with stroke recovery researchers from Centre for Rehab Innovations, Hunter Medical Research Institute and Hunter New England Health to refine and test a Devised Theatre Performance process in 9 people with chronic stroke who live in Newcastle, NSW. During an intensive 8-week (16 hour) process, participants told their stories about stroke and surviving the losses sustained by this experience. Then, a play based on the stories was scripted, drama skills were learned and rehearsed, and the ensemble performed the play ‘My Mind’s I‘ for a public audience. The pilot program (unpublished, supported by the Priority Research Centre for Stroke and Brain Injury improved participants’ perception of their amount of recovery since their stroke, their self-confidence, self-efficacy in managing daily tasks, and participants gained a sense of group cohesion and belonging. Watching the performance appears to improve an audience’s knowledge of stroke, and the understanding of what it’s like to live with one, even for health professionals, researchers and family members of people with stroke.

‘Yes it de-medicalises it; makes it about people, not cells.’ [Researcher 1]

‘You can know all the stats and facts, but real life people with real opinions helps you learn the true impact…I will be more empathetic’ [Researcher 2]

‘…what I feel is common and I’m not alone,’ [Stroke survivor]

Participants found the process challenging, fun and personally transformative; their identity shifted from ‘survivor’ to ‘healer’ and ‘educator’. Most having originally never tried anything like this, 6 months on, the ensemble is still meeting and creating theatre.

CRI Director, Prof Nilsson, leads the Swedish-based Culture and Brain Health Initiative and this work builds on the previous research that has been investigating the brain-changing effects of the sensory stimulation of using cultural, creative and artistic approaches to stroke recovery. There is growing evidence that taking part in challenging multisensory activities, especially in a social setting, stimulates brain neuroplasticity and promotes learning, even years after stroke.

Challenging, multimodal, social experiences like group-based arts and music have been shown to stimulate recovery in the chronic phase of stroke. Taking part in playmaking – synthesizing ideas and imaginations, building artistic relationships, mutual respect and discipline – and performing dramatically are demanding both psychologically and cognitively. This planned project seeks to test, scientifically, whether this community-based, drama practitioner-led group process improves cognitive function, mood and well-being in stroke survivors.

The ABC Compass TV program documented the pilot project. Stroke Stories will screen Sunday July 21st at 6:30pm on TV and ABC iview.

Join us for a drink, a chat, and a premiere screening of the show at HMRI, Sunday 21st July 4:30pm – reserve a seat here.

[‘The Mind’s I Arts Health Intervention: Assessing the impact of Devised Theatre Performance (CTP) to improve the recovery of people with chronic stroke – a pilot study’ was designed and run by Dr Linden Wilkinson (University of Sydney), A/Prof Nick Higginbotham, Gillian Mason, Prof Michael Nilsson and Jimmy Efrid (University of Newcastle), and Anne Sweetapple and Matilda McIntosh (Community Stroke Team, Hunter New England Health)