Theatre group for people with Parkinson’s disease | Interviews

Members of Tremanti di Passione.

How can theatrical performances support people with Parkinson’s? Members of Tremanti di Passione share how the Italy-based theatre group is helping to forge friendships, inspire confidence – and offer participants a “journey of discovery”

Physiotherapist Gigliola Torello didn’t expect to help form a theatre group for people with Parkinson’s. “It all started intuitively,” she says, explaining that when one of her patients was struggling with symptoms of the condition, she proposed that he participate in a theatre workshop. “I didn’t know exactly what it would look like – but I realised it could be a good idea.”

In 2019, Gigliola and three fellow physiotherapists and actors – Simona Ferrari, Roberta Sfulcini and Nicoletta Ricci – formed Tremanti di Passione, a theatre lab based in Parma, Italy. They recruited theatrical trainer Franca Tragni to help with directing. The lab offers people with Parkinson’s the opportunity to work on theatrical performances and tackle their motor skills.

“We considered what we could do beyond physiotherapy, to offer people a space outside of their condition,” says Roberta, who has been a physiotherapist since 1982. “We were also interested in reaching a wider audience in order to raise awareness of Parkinson’s.”

Members of Tremanti di Passione

In 2019, four physiotherapists and actors set up Tremanti di Passione, a theatre lab based in Parma, Italy.

Taking participants “on a journey of discovery”

Through exercises, improvisations, vocalisations, tongue twisters and movements, director Franca aims to guide participants to a greater awareness of their “means of expression.” “The theatre workshops take participants on a journey of discovery,” she explains. “They allow them to express their own individual creativity.”

Giovanni Canetti, who joined the group in 2019, three years after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, agrees. He says being part of the project has helped him to express himself emotionally: “It gave me back confidence in myself – and made me understand how much I can give back.” What stays with him most is “the final applause. It’s like a hammer that hits your heart without warning and releases adrenaline and chills throughout your body.”

The theatre workshop has developed and performed two productions so far, written by the group participants and adapted for the stage by Franca, in various theatres across Parma and beyond.

Roberta has witnessed first-hand the impact that performing can have on members. “Some have come out of a kind of social isolation that can sometimes characterise the condition,” she explains. “They are proud of the courage and strength they express during their performances.”

Members of the Tremanti di Passione theatre lab, based in Italy.

Members of the Tremanti di Passione theatre lab moments being going on stage to perform.

A place of understanding and support

Another participant of the lab, Idajet Fiku, values the social aspect of the group. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2007, Idajet was encouraged to join the group as a way to tackle loneliness. “For me, Tremanti di Passione offers a group of friends who understand and help me.”

Giovanni agrees, adding: “Being part of a group of people who share the same hardships can free you from a burden. It’s a way that people can talk about their fears, to find confidence.”

The participants highlight how the group has also helped them highlight the realities of living with Parkinson’s to the wider public. For Idajet, “Having my family watch me perform has helped them understand the difficulties of my condition.”

“Talking to an audience about one’s experiences has a very strong emotional return,” says Giovanni. “It gives me an incredible strength and desire for life.”

Franca, meanwhile, has felt rewarded throughout her experience with Tremanti di Passione. “Every single meeting, every minute with this wonderful group is always special,” she says. “They give so much beauty to the world.”

A photograph of a theatrical performance involving members of Tremanti di Passione.

“The theatre workshops take participants on a journey of discovery,” Franca explains.

How can theatre and performance workshops support people with Parkinson’s?

We asked members of Tremanti di Passione to share their perspectives. Here’s what they said…

  • “It gives me strength, courage and positivity – and I carry this attitude with me every day” (Angelo Vernazza, participant)
  • “New friendships, new skills – learning to live better with Parkinson’s” (Gian Paolo Filipello, participant)
  • “Stimulating creativity through gestures” (Gianpaolo Bellanova, participant)
  • “Demonstrating that I can perform difficult tasks” (Ginetta Gianferrari, participant)
  • “To play beyond the limits of Parkinson’s” (Margherita Corradi, participant)
  • “Being able to talk about Parkinson’s with courage and without fear” (Maria Cristina Avanzini, participant)
  • “Having a shared adventure with people with Parkinson’s” (Massimiliano Mezzadri, participant)
  • “Allowing participants to feel like people before being patients” (Nicoletta Ricci, physiotherapist)
  • “Being understood and listened to – overcoming shyness” (Simona Ferrari, physiotherapist)

Coming up

The next Tremanti di Passione show will take place on Sunday, 17 December, at Teatro del Convitto nazionale Maria Luigia – a theatre in Parma, Italy. In partnership with the University of Parma, the show will include a Q&A for medical students. If you would like to find out more about the upcoming performance, please reach out to the group at [email protected].

Read more:

‘Shaking Hands with the Devil’ – the short film exploring Parkinson’s disease and stigma

The ‘Movers and Shakers’ podcast: “We all have such different perspectives”

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