ANNE BASTING is a young academic who volunteers at a local long-term care community, where she leads circles of five or six RESIDENTS with dementia in dramatic exercises.
ANNE: (with encouragement, but she knows something is missing)
You’re a tree. The wind is blowing you. You’re a tree.
The RESIDENTS hold up their arms and sway back and forth. A few are somewhat sedated from medications.
Some weeks later, desperate for an alternative, ANNE tears a photograph of the Marlboro Man from a magazine and walks into the activities room with a large sketch pad and marker.
ANNE: OK. Let’s make it up. Who can tell me a story about the Marlboro Man?
RESIDENT #1: What do you mean?
ANNE: Tell me anything. Tell me something about who you think this person is.
Slowly, the RESIDENTS hazard responses. The man is Fred Astaire. He fishes for food but is so sick of fish that he wouldn’t eat another one if you fried it in gold.
From this beginning in 1996 arises the TimeSlips program at UW-Milwaukee, which has since trained more than 3,000 people in similar techniques – and which ANNE (now a professor of play analysis) spun off from the university into a separate nonprofit in March.