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The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

Forgetting family: How PV’s fall play raised awareness for dementia

Pleasant+Valley+drama+members%2C+Braeden+Jackson%2C+Delaney+Riley%2C+Ethan+Kilcoin%2C+Grace+Engstrom%2C+Lola+Johannsen%2C+perform+the+final+scene+of++Helium%2C+the+schools+fall+play.++Photographer%3A+Jenelle+Shamrell+
Jenelle Shamrell
Pleasant Valley drama members, Braeden Jackson, Delaney Riley, Ethan Kilcoin, Grace Engstrom, Lola Johannsen, perform the final scene of “Helium,” the school’s fall play. Photographer: Jenelle Shamrell

Visiting grandparents is something a lot of people take for granted, considering that in one instant, grandparents can leave this world. However, for some families, losing their loved ones can be a slow and an emotionally painful process. 

Pleasant Valley’s fall play, “Helium”, focuses on the life of a grandmother living with dementia, an incurable illness that deteriorates the mind. It’s a very personal story to put on a very public stage, and it became a very impactful one for freshman Quinn Russell. 

Russell was selected as the dramaturg for the production; someone who finds information on the topics mentioned in a show. Not only did Russell do plenty of research on dementia, she also brought in her personal experience. 

Dementia runs in her family, and her grandmother suffered from it before she passed away a few years ago. This show became very real to her as she went through the rehearsal process. “It just reminded me how much I loved my grandma and I wished I had more time then I did with her,” Russell said. 

The rehearsal process even impacted people who have never experienced dementia in their lives. Junior Lola Johannsen, who played show’s lead Gramms, learned a lot from the experience. “‘Helium’ helped me see the effects of dementia on a family in a way that I never thought I would,” said Johannsen. 

Directly before the show, a display about dementia made by Russell was in the lobby. It included information about the illness, as well as pictures of students with loved ones suffering from the illness. At the show, each audience member was handed a dementia awareness ribbon as they received their program. 

During the show, the actors put a lot of effort into accurately portraying the story and were met with emotional responses from the audience. Russell’s mother cried the entire duration of the performance as she thought of her own mother. 

Some members of the audience who were in the early stages of dementia laughed at the nuances in Johannsen’s acting as they related to her character in a different way than others. 

After the show ended, its impact still lasted. The topic of dementia is something scary for Russell, but being a part of the show gave her solace. “It’s been a frightful deal not knowing if I or my mom will get it. It’s just such a heartbreaking and scary thing to know you’ll lose all your memories,” Russell said. 

“Helium” helped Russell normalize her feelings and be better prepared in case she has to face the sad reality of dementia again.

Both Russell and Johannsen hope that “Helium” was a story that everyone could see themselves reflected in, and that it started a conversation on the incurable and disheartening illness of dementia.

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Forgetting family: How PV’s fall play raised awareness for dementia