Approximately 20 local viewers saw a virtual performance of the dementia-friendly, one-act play “Steering into the Skid” on Oct. 21 and participated in discussion afterward.

Before the featured play, participants saw a video about the concert program “Love Never Forgets,” presented before COVID-19 at the Ordway in St. Paul by the Twin Cities-based Giving Voice Chorus, composed of people with dementia and their care partners; a video of the song “Forever Young” by the seniors’ chorus Alive and Kicking; and a promotional video about the Sing Out program that brings music to senior living facilities.

All three previews recognized that music resides in a deep layer of the brain that can remain less affected by dementia than other memories or skills. During discussion after the play, there were frequent hints that participants would like to see similar music programs locally.

Lasting about 20 minutes, the play itself features Danette McCarthy and Jim Pounds as married couple Amanda and Tim, depicting them in 12 brief vignettes spread out over one year’s time. Month by month, Tim’s dementia progresses from subtle clues to a full diagnosis.

Most movingly, the pair handles it with as much love, patience and humor as anyone could. But the emotional toll on both of them grows more and more apparent until, in the last segment, Amanda gives vent to a silent storm of rage and grief.

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At one of the breakout sessions, discussion groups discussed the significance of the play being set in the couple’s car – with Jim at the wheel early on, and Amanda taking over as driver toward the end. Thoughtful suggestions included a sense of routines undergoing change, a place where intimate conversations can happen, a symbol of the journey people like Tim and Amanda are on, and the change in who’s “at the wheel” in their relationship.

Regarding how Tim and Amanda seem to be faring, and will likely fare in the future, comments were largely optimistic because of the evident bond between the two and hints that one of their children might step up to help.

However, adapting to change is clearly a struggle for Tim. There seems to be a good chance that having an in-home nurse will be difficult for him, while Amanda needs more than ever to continue her work as a real estate agent.

Asked about their hopes and fears for the couple, or for other families dealing with dementia, viewers shared sad and frightening experiences that friends or loved ones have gone through, and voiced hope that dementia people and their carers will find support.

The COVID-related closure of some local respite programs for elder caregivers was also brought up, with the hope that they can soon reopen safely.

McCarthy summed up the program with the hope that performances like “Steering into the Skid” will engage the community in “having courageous conversations” about how to become more dementia friendly.

This is the first of a series of three plays designed to cultivate dementia friendly communities. Park Rapids is one of five Minnesota communities participating in the series, mounted through the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging’s Remember Project. According to McCarthy, the three plays were chosen from 91 scripts submitted to a dementia-themed playwriting contest.

An encore performance of the play by Arnold Johnston and Deborah Ann Percy is planned for Nov. 10. Free tickets can be reserved at