Dancing in the aisles at the Musical Matinee Club

“If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t leave the house.”

This was one of the compliments paid to Suzy Harvey, host of the Musical Matinee Club screenings series at the De La Warr Pavilion, by one of its regular visitors.

Dancing at the De La Warr Pavilion

A dance interval at the De La Warr Pavilion

Such is the value and escapism that the season at the Bexhill-On-Sea venue provides to so many who attend, including those with dementia, learning disabilities and their carers.

Image of Suzy Harvey doing team briefing

Suzy Harvey briefs the team before the screening

It’s easy to see why the regulars react so warmly to Suzy (pictured, sporting fake beard!). With many years’ experience of working with people living with dementia and care providers, and as a Giggle Doctor on a children’s ward, her energy and enthusiasm for the screenings rings out. She uses her skills to engage the audience with this particular set of  enhanced relaxed* film screenings,  encouraging reminiscence and laughter through the use of props and interaction.

Produced in partnership with Bexhill Dementia Action Alliance, and part-sponsored by Film Hub South East, the season features specially selected films that always include great songs, fun props and prompts to bring the action on screen to life in the auditorium.

Goody bags for all

My visit earlier this month was to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, (and coming next is Mamma Mia, and High Society).

Props list for film

Contents of the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers props bag

Each audience member receives a goody bag of props connected with the film to use during the screening. For this film it contained a fake beard, to use to illustrate the brothers’ facial hair, plus other items to encourage interaction during the film – including coffee cups to bang together to mark when horses were galloping on the screen, and cotton wool balls to throw at each other as an impromptu “snowball fight” in the auditorium, to mimic the action onscreen.

During the interval, the audience is encouraged to stand up and dance to some music for a few minutes, something which many seemed to really relish.

Feedback from the events, both informally and from the audience surveys, is glowing. It’s easy to see why. I spoke to both Suzy Harvey and Ashley McCormick, Head of Learning and Participation at the De La Warr, about their experience of putting on the series of events, and they admit that the work involved in preparing the events is rigorous, but they both agreed it was well worth it.

A gift for your ears

You can hear more about how Suzy and Ashley and their colleagues put the Musical Matinee Club season together, including practical information about costings, marketing, briefing and training volunteers, and working in partnership with local organisations, on our forthcoming Film Hub South East podcast, Film Hubbub. Watch this space!

* Relaxed screenings are specifically designed to welcome people who may benefit from a more informal environment, including with those living with dementia and disabilities. Auditorium lights will be partially up throughout, there’s a relaxed attitude to noise, audience members are free to move around and come and go whenever they like. There is a quiet area in the Auditorium Foyer for anyone who needs a break during the screening.  Staff and volunteers have attended “Dementia Friends” awareness sessions, and will sensitively and respectfully welcome people living with dementia and their carers.