The former first lady and founder of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving once said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”
Nell Bang-Jensen is a theatre professional, but at times, she has also been what she calls a “caregiver,” working as a nanny in her early 20s.
That experience, and watching her grandparents receive hospice care, inspired her to create a play with Pig Iron Theatre Company about the role — what it means to be a caregiver, professional or not, and to receive the care of one. That title could apply to those caring for sick relatives, social workers, childcare providers and more.
“The labor involved in caregiving is often quite mundane, menial, quiet, and slow,” said Bang-Jensen, Pig Iron’s associate artistic director, by email. “I like the theatrical challenge of trying to create a play out of something that seems, in some ways, inherently undramatic.”
“The Caregivers Project” hasn’t been written yet, as is common for Pig Iron shows, which often begin with an idea to be discussed collaboratively rather than a script. The company is instead asking self-identified caregivers to help by sharing their stories — and for a few of them, to perform in the show itself.
“So far I’ve found that some caregivers are eager to share their stories and meet others in their line of work,” said Bang-Jensen, who is currently studying community-generated theater models through a grant from Theatre Communications Group. “For them, reflecting on their experiences in a supportive environment is enough.”
Its format isn’t set, either, though Bang-Jensen said she think it will end up being “a series of scenes, songs, and monologues, some that are realistic and others that exist in a more fantastical, fictional realm.” Development of the play will continue through March, with rehearsals in the spring and performances in June.
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“Americans don’t tend to like to think about our vulnerabilities or our mortality, and the act of caregiving confronts these dynamics head-on,” Bang-Jensen said. “I wanted to shine a light on this work, which often happens behind closed doors and in isolation.”
“The relationships between caregivers and those they care for are a microcosm for larger dynamics in our country; acts of care can require navigation of power dynamics, racial and class differences, and an emotional labor that is often gendered,” she said. “I wanted to dive into these complexities and assumptions and give members of our neighborhood the opportunity to come together.”
To kick off “The Caregivers Project,” Pig Iron is hosting a story circle open to the public:
- When — Saturday, Jan. 20, 2 to 4 p.m.
- Where — Pig Iron Theatre Company, 1417 N. 2nd St.
- Who — Company members and any Philadelphian who identifies as a caregiver
RSVP to Bang-Jensen at email@example.com or 802-922-8101.-30-
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