Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA Spt-Oct 2014 Contents From his days as an acting
student Maurie Barlin knew his
interest in the dramatic arts
would take him to places beyond
the mainstream acting stage.
After graduating from Theatre Nepean
in 1992, Barlin threw himself into drama
teaching and later co-founded a theatre
company working with homeless and
disadvantaged communities in inner and
western Sydney. Working as a performer
and workshop tutor he created drama
programs to build the self-esteem and
confidence of people on society's fringe.
Throughout his career he has
specialised in working with non-actors and
beginners and following a 13-year stint at
Milk Crate Theatre, he took up a role as a
drama tutor in the disability sector.
He describes working as part of
Beyond ABBA, a workshop program for
people with a disability, as his toughest
teaching role. "The challenge for me in
working in a group setting was navigating
the range of needs and different forms
of blocks in communication within the
group. You really had to think on your feet
and create as you went along."
Barlin has worked in a range of areas
such as fringe theatre, museum and cultural
tourism, and film and television, but he says
social and community theatre really changed
his "outlook on life" and crystallised the
impact he could make as a performer.
In 2012 Barlin left Riverside Theatre
to take up a role as an artist with Play
Up, an evidenced-based humour therapy
program for aged care residents run by
the Arts Health Institute.
Stepping into aged care for the first
time, Barlin says he was shocked by
the workload pressures on staff but
also struck by the opportunity to make
a genuine difference. "There was this
amazing synergy -- we could take what
we do as performers and find new ways
of communicating and connecting with
He tells the story of Barry*, a survivor
of the Quaker's Hill fire in Sydney, who
staff described as unresponsive and at
times aggressive. Upon arriving at the
facility to meet him, Barlin quizzed staff
for biographical clues and snippets of his
"I was told he was a butcher and I just
happened to know that butchers of that
era have a language where they speak
backwards so they could talk about meat in
front of the customers. It's called rehctub
klat, which is butcher talk backwards."
After practicing a few words, Barlin
bid him hello in this secret butcher talk.
For the first time in days, his hollow
gaze broke. He sat upright and started
chatting with Barlin, who then played him
a few Australian folk songs reminiscent of
country life. Barry started clapping and
singing along, and tapping in his seat.
"You don't have breakthroughs like that
every day but those are the significant
ones that you are looking for. He was
someone with challenging behaviour that
nobody quite knew how to engage."
By using improvisation, banter and
provocative humour, Barlin was able to
make a connection and significantly alter
the mood of his environment. He says
the goal is to shift the conversation into
performance through the use of character
or song, to "lift it to a different realm."
When executed properly, humour therapy
can awaken a side to the residents that many
care staff have not previously seen.
"There are two particular elders that I
work with, one that has MS and the other
has very advanced dementia, who sit
down slumped over most of the day and
are quite inactive. But when we sing songs
and play together, they liven up and they
start flirting and bouncing in their seats."
By showing residents in a new light, he
says staff perceptions of residents can
"We're trying to develop strategies for
staff to use and adopt that may help them
in their day-to-day care and so it's up to
the Play Up performer to try and bring
everyone on board. n
*Real name not used.
The Arts Health Institute's National Play Up
Convention runs 24-25 November at Luna
Park, Sydney. Go to artshealthinstitute.org.
'A different realm'
Maurie Barlin practices
therapy as part of the
Play Up program. Photo
credit: Nicola Ward for
Arts Health Institute.
The social role of the arts has been a running theme throughout
the career of actor and drama educator Maurie Barlin. Now
as a performer with the Arts Health Institute he has turned to
the power of art as therapy. He talks to Linda Belardi.
Aged care from all angles
60 | SEPTEMBER -- OCTOBER 2014 | AAA
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