Walking on Mars: Dementia education through a play written by nurses.

Left: Ann Bobonick Right: Patricia Irwin

(Left to right) Nursing faculty member
Ann Bobonick with her mentor Patricia Irwin.

Miami Regionals nursing faculty member Ann Bobonick has teamed up with her mentor Patricia Irwin, a nurse therapist and former Miami faculty member, to write a play to explore issues surrounding the growing prevalence of dementia.

"When Everything Looked So Dark" will get its premiere Thursday night in a Miami University Hamilton Theatre production. "The initial concept was Pat's idea," Ann said, but she is glad to have been a part of its development.

Performances will be 7:30 p.m. April 21, 22 and 23 in the studio theater in 307 Phelps Hall. All three shows are sold out.

"Asking me to help write a play was like asking me if I would walk on Mars with her," she said. "I had never done anything like that. I don't consider myself creative."

She had known Pat for many years—both members of the Sacred Heart Church in Fairfield-- and it was upon Pat's advice that she got into nursing in the first place, "so how could I say 'no' to this lady?"

Pat said her first exposure to Alzheimer's disease came around the time she got married when her Uncle Pete was suffering with it, and since then through her practice she has encountered many other cases with clients struggling with relatives who have the disease.

"There are five million active dementia cases right now in America," she said, "and in ten years there will be thirteen million because we are living longer."

She began working on the play five years ago to explore some of these issues. She came up with the idea of exploring a family in crisis, when a young man who is struggling to find direction in his life is suddenly confronted with the loss of his mother and is being pushed into taking care of his grandmother--Grandy--who has dementia.

"Grandy had said to her daughter, 'Never put me in one of those places,'" Pat said, which is a common stance. "He chooses to keep his mother's promise to not put Grandy away, so he sleeps at her bedside and learns a lot about who he is."

Three years ago, she shared the concept with Bridget Ossman, a friend who is a teacher-turned-playwright and who encouraged her to continue working on it. Ossman coincidentally, is the sister of Bekka Eaton Reardon, Associate Professor in theatre at Miami Hamilton.

"Pat had heard me talk about teaching geriatric nursing at Miami," Ann said, "and how the students and I lost our hearts to the people we served. It was then that she asked me to co-author the play."

Over the next year, Pat and Ann would meet intermittently to create and develop the scenes. A new character was added, the girlfriend of the caregiver who would bring in her geriatric learning as a nursing student in to support Russell's caregiver journey.

"When Everything Looks So Dark" comes from a lyric in the Johnny Mercer song "Accentuate the Positive" by Johnny Mercer, "because that's what Russell learns to do with Grandy," Pat said.
Directed by Bekka Eaton Reardon, the cast includes Miami Hamilton students Tyler King and Hannah Rastopsoff and Pat Napier, long-time theatre practitioner.

Each performance will be followed with a talk-back and panel discussion that will include a different slate of professional and personal caregivers each night.

"The arts can get deeper than more traditional teaching methods to help people learn," Ann said. "If this goes further, perhaps it could be used to help train personal or professional caregivers."

"It was a revelation, a gift to see it coming to life through these actors," Pat said, "more than we expected."

"To have them do this is beyond our wildest dreams," Ann added. "It goes so much deeper when you see it coming through the actors."