By Mike Templeton

As if You Will Remember: Words, Music, and Dance Exploring Dementia’s Love and Loss features seven artists, including urban Appalachian poets Gerry Grubbs and Pauletta Hansel, an Urban Appalachian Community Coalition Core member. The performance also features Rachel DesRochers, Gerry’s daughter and a second-generation urban Appalachian, dancer Katie Chal, and musicians Rob Keenan and Adam Petersen. Veteran playwright John Ray, himself from Appalachian Ohio, has provided guidance. This performance will be staged at Gabriel’s Corner as part of this year’s Cincy Fringe Festival. Full performance information is provided below.

As if You Will Remember is a rare and unique performance that combines multiple art forms to convey the force and complexity of being confronted with life and loss with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The object of the performance is, by definition, complex as dementia involves the unstoppable loss of a loved one before one’s eyes, first through the loss of memory, and then the final loss through death. To get these themes across in any meaningful way is a monumental process. Poet Gerry Grubbs lost his wife of forty-three years to early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and he is the initial creative force behind As if You Will Remember.

Gerry Grubbs is an urban Appalachian poet. In between doing his undergraduate studies and attending law school at the University of Cincinnati, Grubbs signed on for the writing program at the University of Arizona with the intention of getting his MFA. But since his poetry was already experiential, he decided to leave the program without the MFA. He has been writing for many years now, and it is through poetry that Grubbs is now able to convey at least some of his experiences with Alzheimer’s disease.

As If You Will Remember was first produced in August 2023 at The Well, a performance space in Cincinnati, Ohio, as a fundraiser for Giving Voice Foundation. Gerry Grubbs had recently published a book of poems, A New Way to Listen (Dos Madres Press, 2023) honoring his late wife, Mary Grubbs who died from Alzheimer’s disease after a prolonged battle that included six months in hospice care. Gerry invited their daughter, Rachel Grubbs DesRochers, who had journaled and blogged during and after her mother’s illness, and poet Pauletta Hansel, who had written a book about her mother, Larnie Hansel’s, dementia journey, to join him in creating the performance script,

As if You Will Remember is dedicated to Grubbs’ late wife, Mary Grubbs, and to Pauletta’s mother, Larnie Hansel, who died in 2018 with dementia. Both women came from southeastern Kentucky. Gerry told me Mary Grubbs “was born into a family of fifteen in Honeybee, Kentucky in McCreary County. We were married for forty-three years and raised three children.” With such a lifetime together, it seems unimaginable that anyone could find the right language to tell such a story, but Grubbs, with his long experience as a poet, works with those forms of language that allow one to speak of things without necessarily speaking of them directly, evoking an intense and powerful set of feelings, thoughts, and experiences.

Pictured: As If You Will Remember poster

Core member Pauletta Hansel knows this same subject from her own experience, and her poems about her mother are woven into the script, primarily those from her Weatherford Award winning book Palindrome (Dos Madres Press, 2017). As if You Will Remember opens with poetry from Grubbs followed immediately by poetry from Hansel. Both lead off with “I remember…” as complementary openings that link to the central theme of memory. Both of these poems end with memories of being held closely in the mind and memory of another, and we know that it is precisely this deeply personal and intimate work of the human mind that is what is at stake in this performance.

As the drama progresses, the poetic performances and the readings from Rachel DesRochers’ personal writing during and after her mother’s illness are punctuated with music and dance to draw out these ideas and themes in ways that language cannot. As a result, the performance takes language and memory away from us and replaces it with the rhythm and movement of song and dance. Thus, the performance involves moments such as when Grubbs recites lines such: “We were like two storms gathering intensity/ Who meet in the middle of an open field.” Chal’s dance and Keenan and Petersen’s music in this section give us an experience of storms in a different kind of language. Each art form— music, dance, and language—all converge to enact and evoke memory, loss, grief, mourning, but also love, devotion and fidelity. It all becomes of a piece just as it does as we experience such things— experiences that defy language by their very nature.

Grubbs explains that “grief is a deep and heavy topic which we do not contemplate until forced to” and that finding a way to “look at our grief is the only way to come to understand its place in our lives.” These thoughts, the confronting of grief and the seizing on the space of memory and forgetting are the ideas at work in this performance. It is one that “works on your whole being,” as Grubbs explains. It reaches us, to quote the philosopher Maurice Blanchot, from the “space out of which [forgetting] speaks.”

As if You Will Remember: Words, Music, and Dance Exploring Dementia’s Love and Loss is part of the Cincy Fringe Festival and will be performed at Gabriel’s Corner. This multi-artist performance centers the lives of two Appalachian families, with four of the seven artists urban Appalachians themselves. Wrestling with loss, grief, and the struggles of living with dementia, this performance is unique in how it uses multiple arts to convey themes and ideas that are both difficult but also threaded through with love. 

Full information on the performance of As if You Will Remember, including show times and how to purchase tickets, can be found at this link:

The full schedule for the Cincy Fringe Festival is at this link:

Cover photo credit: Kevin Rife

Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of The Chief of Birds: A Memoir, available from Erratum Press, and Impossible to Believe, forthcoming from Iff Books. Check out his profile in UACC’s Cultural Directory. He lives in West Milton, Ohio with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city and the country snapping photos. She looks up at the grandeur above, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.

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