You would be forgiven for believing that receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease is something more likely to be associated with the elderly, but as I have recently discovered this is often not the case. Janet was forty-seven when she was diagnosed with PD and once she was through the initial stages of rage and denial, she drew on her astounding inner reserves and began to challenge herself in a way that many people with an incurable illness probably wouldn’t even consider.
But no cure didn’t mean no hope to Janet, and once treatment to help manage the symptoms began, she was intent on maintaining her fulfilling lifestyle and encouraging others to do the same. On top of all the community work she already did, she threw herself into arranging fundraising and awareness raising events and more recently forming a theatre group, with her friend Shelia North, who is also has Parkinson’s. Pretty soon they rallied a team together and could begin working towards their first performance.
Parky Players are a group of individuals, some of whom have Parkinson’s and some who don’t. The concept was arrived at during a Zoom meeting at the start of the first lockdown, when Janet suggested to the others in the Parkinson’s support group, that they needed a project to work on to help keep them occupied and focused on moving forward, at a time when they perhaps needed to experience this the most.
Shake it Up is the result of many months of writing, rewriting and performing to produce a feel good comedy drama that highlights the struggles and dispels the myths surrounding Parkinson’s disease. Named after one of the most common symptoms (tremors) the title also suggests that some of the misconceptions may well be turned on their head – and yes it does include a delightful version of Taylor’s Swift’s Shake it Off! Not sorry for the earworm.
Janet explains to me that the cast are either PWPs or PUPs, ‘People with Parkinson’s’ and ‘People who Understand Parkinson’s’, and her character introduces them this way as the performance begins. It’s a humorous pastiche of the Grimm’s Fairy Tale classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and it’s a riot! The narrative begins with a community group turning up for their weekly meeting, they are somewhat surprised then to find themselves thrust into the fantasy world of ‘Snow White and the Seven Symptoms’. Each character represents one of the common symptoms of Parkinson’s. It’s a story of self development, the underlying mantra ‘Acceptance, Adaptation, Ambition.’
With tenacity and shovels full of determination, ‘hi ,ho, hi, ho, it’s off to work we go,’ the team pulled together to get the original script Seven go Fracking to performance standard, putting in their practice at Beeston Rylands Community Centre, where the pantomime inspired play had its first performance. Encouraged by the response, the ‘Players’ sought advice regarding Arts Council Funding and enlisted the support of local Director Rachel Green (Drama Queen) and Producer Dan Webber. With an expanding team and a professional rewrite under their belts, they continued to improve on their performance, ambitious about widening their audience and spreading their message.
Janet explains, “being given the opportunity by Arts Council England to form Parky Players and create Shake It Up has developed opportunities well beyond those envisaged at the beginning of this project. As a group of complete novice actors, we have gained new skills, self-esteem, and pride in ourselves and our outcomes.” The journey hasn’t always been easy, lockdowns, health issues, financial pressures and discord were all obstacles they had to overcome. But they did! Following hugely successful performances at the Museum of Making, Derby and the Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham in July 2022 The Park Players were gearing up for their esteemed slot at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, just a short month away at The Space UK. Go, Parky Players!
‘The Road’, an original song written by members of the cast and composer Charlotte Daniel, is the closing song in the play. It’s an honest and emotive response to a diagnosis that changes your whole perspective on life. But far from being a lament, this song is uplifting and courageous, and it rounds the performance off perfectly for me, with a conclusion that being diagnosed with Parkinson’s is not the end of the road but the start of a different journey – albeit at a slower pace. It’s about having courage to build a ‘new’ road, ‘accepting, adapting’ and keeping dreams alive.
The song delivers a powerful message. If you listen closely you can detect the swell of pride in the words, in each sentence shared by the cast members, the point of which could resonate with anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by the heady pace of modern life. You can indeed “brave to step out of the race.”
To add to all the previous success, Parky Players won The World Parkinson’s Coalition Song Contest in 2022 for ‘The Road’. Their song was up against 47 others, from 37 artists from 19 countries at the World Parkinson’s Song Competition in December and will now be performed by the World Parkinson’s Congress Choir at the opening ceremonies of the World Parkinson’s Congress in Barcelona in July 2023.
The World Parkinson’s Choir is a united voice ensemble, coming together as one global Parkinson’s community connecting through song! Voices will join collectively from all over the world, each person bringing unique qualities to the group dynamic, and to the musical output of the chorus.
Not content to just have achieved all of this, which in itself is amazing, the Parky Players are now looking for support to get ‘The Road’ in the charts and are continually fundraising to extend their reach with both Shake it Up and perhaps a follow up.
A trailer for the show can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYmKXMTPBdA
Here’s a link to the recording of the song, and the video featuring the Parky Players: https://youtu.be/OcoYz0wq3H4
• Every hour, two people in the UK are told they have Parkinson’s
• It affects 145,000 people in the UK – which is around one in 350 of the adult population
• Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological condition, for which there currently is no cure. The main symptoms of the condition are tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity
• Parkinson’s UK is the UK’s leading charity supporting those with the condition. Its mission is to find a cure and improve life for everyone affected by Parkinson’s through cutting edge research, information, support and campaigning.
• For advice, information and support, visit www.parkinsons.org.uk or call its free, confidential helpline on 0808 800 0303