Moving Closer to What Scares You

A picture of Sarah in character for her play "Love You Love you Love you"

Greetings from deep inside the process of creating a new play! My name is Sarah Sanford, and I am currently making an original solo piece called “Love you Love you Love you.” Each day is a whirlwind of props, costumes, scripts, and characters bumping up against each other as my collaborators and I try to figure this thing out. Why – you might ask – is a post about theatre appearing on a website about dementia? The simple answer is: my mother has dementia, and I am a theatre artist. Theatre is my form of expression, and as someone experiencing dementia within her family, I have a great deal to express.

If you’re reading this post, you may know from experience how caring for a loved one with dementia can bring about a storm of conflicting emotions, worry, and grief. For years I felt helpless watching my mother, unsure what she needed from me and feeling guilty for not doing more. An opportunity came along to take a semester’s leave from my teaching job and create a piece. It was immediately clear to me what subject matter I wanted to tackle.

Theatre is an act of translation – taking something you’ve observed or experienced, and transposing it into a theatrical structure and style that has the power and urgency to reach an audience. I knew as I embarked on this piece that the theme of dementia would prove challenging in the theatrical medium. I’d seen movies dealing with dementia conditions and marveled at the acting of folks like Julie Christie (“Away from Her”), and Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”). But film and live theatre do very different things. And I knew that a “realistic” depiction of a person with dementia was not what I was after – nor did I feel comfortable taking that on. Rather, I wanted to move closer to this heavy topic – as an artist and a daughter – and see where I ended up. I wanted to be curious, to avail myself to the mysteries and poetic associations which might emerge. I wanted to embrace dementia as a theme rather than a burden, to take something universally seen as destructive, and see how it might be creative. 

Which brings me quite nicely to ARTZ. The process of making this play has been enriched by my connection with ARTZ.  Thanks to another theatre artist – Nell Bang-Jensen, who collaborated with ARTZ in 2018 ( – I got to meet Susan Shifrin, learn ARTZ’s mission, and complete their volunteer training. Through it all I have been moved by ARTZ’s profound commitment to the imagination, dignity, and self-esteem of persons living with dementia. Observing ARTZ at work has affirmed a conviction I felt when I was young (the conviction that made me pursue theatre!): namely, that the arts are vital to being human. We feel and experience the world not through our brains, but through our bodies, senses, and a rich poetic sensibility that we share in common.  

In making “Love you Love you Love you”, I’ve experienced renewed faith in my art, and the determination to move through fear and invest in the long, arduous creative process. I’m inspired to make this play a piece that does justice to the complexities of dementia – not just the confusion, sadness, and crises we associate with it, but also the joys, many versions of care, and the desire to keep going. In making this piece, I’ve moved closer to that which scared me. And I’ve been lucky – with the help of ARTZ – to witness the power of the arts not just in the “temporarily able-brained” (Morris Friedell), but in every one of us.

Sarah Sanford’s new solo show about dementia and her relationship to her mother is called “Love you Love you Love you”. It is being presented at the Miniball Festival at FringeArts on March 30 at 7pm.  Tix available: