24 October 2010

My Life in the Theatre – and Afterwards

What follows is a copy of a 'talk' that my husband, ALLEN HARVEY, gave in Sydney recently, at the National Conference of the Australian Aphasia Association. Allen had written the text over the previous two months, and rehearsed its delivery for weeks prior to the conference, which had the name: 'Beyond Words'.

Primary progressive aphasia, the condition which is slowly eating away at the part of Allen's brain that controls speech, was the subject of one strand of the Sydney conference. Allen's presentation, which was accompanied by a slide show containing 90 photos, formed an interlude between papers presented by speech therapists with a special interest in this form of aphasia. The text of Allen's talk and a selection of photos from the slide show are included in this post.

Allen read his talk from a written text, because even though he can no longer converse fluently in complete sentences, he is able to read just about anything aloud from a written text – word-perfect, in this case. Indeed, one of the conference participants congratulated Allen afterwards, saying: "Your speech was so clear that I understood you better than any other presenter at this conference!" The training of a lifetime still serves, I guess.

Here, then, is Allen's talk...
I was born with holes in my heart.

The doctor told my mother: “He will not live beyond his thirties.”

Look at me now! 81 and still going strong.

I had my first open-heart surgery in 1962. Last year, I had open-heart surgery again. The heart was fixed OK, but I had big problems after the operation.
I have Primary Progressive Aphasia, and my brain didn’t like all the drugs I had during surgery. So! I was in Intensive Care for nine weeks.
The doctor told my wife: “You’ll never take him home.”
Well, here I am again! Just stubborn, I guess.
Aphasia is a sneak. I didn’t feel anything. I never had a stroke, and I didn’t get hit in the head like some others. Actually it made me laugh when I said the wrong word, or when driving my wife asked me to turn right and I turned left. At first, I took no notice. But my wife and kids noticed.
I couldn’t remember names. I would say the wrong word and even stutter a little. This went on for some time. Eventually, we decided to see a doctor. We thought maybe I had a stroke.
 I had a brain scan, and the doctor told us: “No, not a stroke. You have Primary Progressive Aphasia. There’s no known cause. And it will probably get worse.”
Let me tell you about my life, so you will see what aphasia has meant to me.
All my life I’ve worked in the theatre. Here’s how I got started.
When I was twenty a friend asked me, would I be in a musical comedy? “We need men for the chorus”, he said. So I said: “All right”.

I went to a rehearsal and I saw a lot of people of all ages, talking and laughing. Suddenly a voice called: “Attention, please, ladies and gentlemen. I want to do the scene in the ballroom”.
I found out this man is called the producer, and he tells the actors what to do. I decided: that is what I want to do.
In the Sydney paper I found the Independent Theatre in North Sydney. It pre­sented plays and also had a Drama School. So I started doing two classes a week.

Over the next five years, I learned stage management at the Independent by watching the plays, and I learned producing by watching rehearsals.

So that’s how I got started. After that, I worked six years in stage management, production and acting, in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

These pictures show a few of the shows I worked on.

I also did tours to country towns...

...and several tours of New Zealand

In 1960, Canberra Repertory asked me to be their Manager and Producer. I said yes. With my wife Meril (Grace) and sons Julian and Andrew, I was in Canberra for four years.

Next, the Elizabethan Theatre Trust and the British Council gave me a scholarship to study acting and production in the UK for one year. And the French and German embassies added some money.

And so I visited drama companies and saw plays, operas and musical comedies in England, Germany, Italy and France – one hundred and twenty-nine different productions. On my way home, I saw twenty more plays in New York and Canada.

Back in Australia, the Theatre Trust made me production director of the Theatre Royal in Hobart. During two years there, I produced about fifteen plays, one opera and two musical comedies.

Next I went as director to the National Theatre of Perth, and after that back to Canberra for a while.

Through someone I met in Canberra, I was invited to Hawaii to open a new theatre for the Bishop Museum. I stayed two years in Hawaii, producing plays, exhibits, dances and songs – all relating to Hawaiian history. I also wrote, produced and acted in a play about Robert Louis Stevenson, who came to Hawaii many times.

Back  in Australia I moved into arts administration, first at the Australia Council and then as Executive Officer of the Tasmanian Arts Advisory Board.

Then I wrote two plays – one for the ABC and one for a theatre-in-education company. I also wrote dozens of radio and TV scripts for ABC education.
And I wrote and produced a series of musical revues.

In Tasmania in the late 70s I also met my current wife. Carol and I have been together for more than 30 years.

  Our family includes my sons Chris and Julian, daughter Zoe and three grandchildren.
Son Julian marries Teri in September 2009
Daughter Zoe marries Brandon in July 2009
Another son, Andrew, died in a motorbike accident. 
Julian & Chris at my 80th birthday
Andrew Harvey 1959-1968

When I finally retired in 1996, I had been a director, stage manager or actor on one hundred and sixty different productions.

For the next 10 years Carol and I lived and travelled in developing countries, where she worked on aid projects.
We lived in the Philippines and Laos, and we stayed in Vietnam and Cambodia. We would visit villages and schools. Carol says I was like Prince Philip. I would walk behind her with my hands behind my back, and chat with everyone. 

Now I have a new job: dealing with aphasia! I’ve had speech therapy several times. I had two semesters at a University clinic for people with aphasia.  
This year, Carol and I took part in an aphasia clinic on the Sunshine Coast for eight weeks. The seven couples from that clinic have now formed the Sunshine Coast Aphasia Group. We meet two times a month for conversation and activities.
At home, I spend my time writing memoires and letters, reading, doing word puzzles and computer programs for aphasia, and singing every day.

Sam helps Granpa Allen with his speech therapy homework

I also try to keep active. I go to rehab twice a week for exercise and therapy.

And I help Carol in the garden.

Well, that’s my life so far. I’ve gone well past thirty. Wouldn’t my mother be surprised!

About me

My photo
I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.