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A documentary theatre project based on the true stories of people who have loved and lost a life partner.
A documentary theatre project based on the true stories of people who have loved and lost a life partner.
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75 backers pledged $7,740 to help bring this project to life.

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The Love & Loss Project

Created through a unique collaboration between Nebunele Theatre Company and Hospice of the Conejo, The Love & Loss Project is a documentary play about the experience of loosing a life partner, and the different ways that people love and grieve. Based on interviews with members of a hospice support group for widows and widowers, this play is part of series of theatre projects in which I (writer/director Claytie Mason) explore how people talk and think about death.

Stories about loss can be painful. They can be beautiful. Horrifying. Peaceful. They are important stories—good stories—and yet there are so few times to tell them.

Many of us don't even talk about death with our closest friends. As a result, these important stories often go untold and unheard. When death does enter our lives, as it inevitably will, there is little context for it—like it's not a part of real life.

The text of The Love & Loss Project is drawn largely from transcripts of the interviews that I conducted. I shared this text with concert musicians Rebecca Jackson, Lisa Weinstein, Tiffany Richardson, and Rebecca Yeh from Sound Impact, performers Brynna JourdenKate Williams Grabau, Stephen Simon, Bram Barouh, Kaitlin Ruby, Samantha Green, Chris Reynolds-Baldwin, singer/songwriter Melissa Thatcher, visual artist and painter Molly Millar, and set designer Carlyanne Crocker. 

Using music, movement, dance, storytelling and poetry, we are working together to bring these stories to the stage beautifully and mindfully. 

"...slyly rewriting the book on documentary theatre." nytheatre.com, Nebunele's The Secret Ruths of Island House

 

Making Theatre About the End of Life

In 2009 I lost a close friend to cancer. The trauma and confusion of that experience led me to volunteer with a local hospice, because I needed to find people who were talking about death: What is this? How do we die? How do we prepare to die?

My training with hospice offered various answers to these questions. When I later moved to New York to pursue an MFA in theatre at Columbia University, I volunteered with two more hospice providers there. When I wasn’t in school or writing, I was spending time with people who were dying—and had some of the most generous and revelatory conversations of my life. I felt at home. These new friendships were true, deep and, sadly, brief.

That’s when I started writing about it.

As a documentary theatre maker, most of my research happens in dialogue with others. At first, I was afraid people wouldn’t want to talk about their experiences with death, but the opposite was true. Almost all of us have a story about losing someone, and we so rarely get to tell it. When we finally do get the opportunity, there’s so much to say.

And so, I initiated a collaboration between playwriting students from Columbia University and residents of the nearby Amsterdam Nursing Home. The Amsterdam House Stories began with interviews, but as we got to know our subjects, the play turned into several types of performances designed to fit the needs and capabilities of the residents (keeping in mind issues such as memory loss and dementia), making performances both for and about the people we were interviewing.

 

“Human experience is varied and astonishing, almost beyond belief, and you don’t have to be on Shackleton’s crew of The Endurance to find it. It is there, in your neighbors’ stories.” -Jo Carson

Inspired by the power of these stories, and my changing approach to traditional theatre making, I began another year-long project that dealt with terminal illness in children, interviewing children, families, doctors, and nurses. The Big White Door was performed at sunset in the tower of the Riverside Church in New York City to a community that included people affected by this issue.

When I returned to California, I began volunteering at Hospice of the Conejo, a forty-year old hospice with an extensive grief support community. The Love and Loss Project came out of a conversation I had one day with staff members. They referred me to one of their grief support groups for widows and widowers, and the project grew from there.

I began by asking a small group of volunteers to share their story. I asked a lot of questions. I had no idea what it was like to lose a life partner. I imagined it was really, really difficult. The interviews often lasted hours—and we didn’t just talk about sad things! We laughed, we cried, we looked at pictures and other keepsakes. I listened to love stories.

 

 

Having spent so much time with stories we tell about the end of life, I believe that talking about death and dying is immensely important to our understanding of life and living. Loss reminds us that our time here is temporary—this alone puts life into quick perspective. But there is so much more to be gained by listening to people's stories about love and loss, and sharing our own.

In creating these performances, my hope is to share with others the humanizing insight and profound connection I experience everytime I ask someone what they know about death.

-Claytie Mason, writer and director of The Love & Loss Project

“Music is the space between notes.” -Claude Debussy

The Love & Loss Project will be performed September 9th at 8pm & September 10th at 2:30pm and 7:30pm in Agoura Hills, California. 

Claytie Mason received her MFA in playwriting from Columbia University with a special concentration in Narrative Medicine, where she focused on issues related to aging, illness and identity, and end of life. As a writer/director Claytie addresses difficult subject matter in a compassionate and creative way. She regularly includes musicians, visual artists, dancers, and actors in a collaborative creation process.

“In the hands of writer-director Claytie Mason and her crew, the drama is as concentrated, melodic and hauntingly elusive as the traditional Irish Ballad on which it’s based.” SF Gate, The Wind and Rain

Nebunele is a 501c3 nonprofit, so all donations are tax-deductible. We are raising money in a multitude of ways to achieve our budget goal of $25,000. 

Expenses include:

  • The materials and construction of the set 
  • Travel costs for performers and musicians 
  • Costume and props
  • Rehearsal space 
  • A stage manager
  • Artist stipends

Risks and challenges

We have received a grant from the city of Thousand Oaks that helped get our financial feet on the ground. This, along with the dedication of Hospice of the Conejo, and the many people who've been willing to donate their time and skill, is how we've been able to bring the project this far. That list includes: every artist involved in the workshop performance, Debbie McMahon, Mike Johnsen, Joyce Mason, Jean Bishop, Susan Murata, Andreea Petruse, Alissa Mortensen Tyka, and all of you for supporting us along the way!

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    You and/or your company will be listed in our program as a sponsor of The Love & Loss Project. In September, we will send a letterpress print of poetic text from the finished script.

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Funding period

- (59 days)