Summer Art Party!


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Nebunele is a 501c3 company. All donations are tax deductible. 

Check out this article about writer/director Claytie Mason!

The Love & Loss Project

"Slyly rewriting the book on documentary theatre."                                              -nytheatre.com, The Secret Ruths of Island House


The Love and Loss Project

The Love & Loss Project is a play about the experience of loosing a life partner, and the different ways that people love and grieve. Based on interviews with members of a hospice support group for widows and widowers, this play is part of series of theatre projects in which I explore how people talk and think about death.  

Stories about loss can be painful. They can be beautiful. Horrifying. Peaceful. They are important stories—good stories—and yet there are so few times to tell them.

Many of us don't even talk about death with our closest friends. As a result, these important stories often go untold and unheard. When death does enter our lives, as it inevitably will, there is little context for it—like it's not a part of real life. 

The text of The Love & Loss Project is drawn largely from transcripts of the interviews that I conducted. I shared this text with the Nebunele team, visual artist Molly Millar, concert violinist Rebecca Jackson and the musicians from Sound Impact. Using music, movement, dance, storytelling and poetry, we are working together to bring these stories to the stage beautifully and mindfully. 

Making Theatre About the End of Life

In 2009 I lost a close friend to cancer. The trauma and confusion of that experience led me to volunteer with a local hospice, because I needed to find people who were talking about death: What is this? How do we die? How do we prepare to die?  

My training with hospice offered various answers to these questions. When I later moved to New York to pursue an MFA in theatre at Columbia University, I volunteered with two more hospice providers there. When I wasn’t in school or writing, I was spending time with people who were dying—and had some of the most generous and revelatory conversations of my life. I felt at home. These new friendships were true, deep and, sadly, brief. 

That’s when I started writing about it.

As a documentary theatre maker, most of my research happens in dialogue with others. At first, I was afraid people wouldn’t want to talk about their experiences with death, but the opposite was true. Almost all of us have a story about losing someone, and we so rarely get to tell it. When we finally do get the opportunity, there’s so much to say. 

And so, I initiated a collaboration between playwriting students from Columbia University and residents of the nearby Amsterdam Nursing Home. The Amsterdam House Stories began with interviews, but as we got to know our subjects, the play turned into several types of performances designed to fit the needs and capabilities of the residents (keeping in mind issues such as memory loss and dementia), making performances both for and about the people we were interviewing. 

Inspired by the power of these stories, and my changing approach to traditional theatre making, I began another year-long project that dealt with terminal illness in children, interviewing children, families, doctors, and nurses. The Big White Door was performed at sunset in the tower of the Riverside Church in New York to a community that included people affected by this issue.

When I returned to California, I began volunteering at Hospice of the Conejo, a forty-year old hospice with an extensive grief support community. The Love and Loss Project came out of a conversation I had one day with staff members. They referred me to one of their grief support groups for widows and widowers, and the project grew from there. 

I began by asking a small group of volunteers to share their story. I asked a lot of questions. I had no idea what it was like to lose a life partner. I imagined it was really, really difficult. The interviews often lasted hours—and we didn’t just talk about sad things! We laughed, we cried, we looked at pictures and other keepsakes. I listened to love stories.

Having spent so much time with stories we tell about the end of life, I believe that talking about death and dying is immensely important to our understanding of life and living. Loss reminds us that our time here is temporary—this alone puts life into quick perspective. But there is so much more to be gained by listening to people's stories about love and loss, and sharing our own.

In creating these performances, my hope is to share with others the humanizing insight and profound connection I experience everytime I ask someone what they know about death.  

 -Claytie Mason, writer and director of The Love & Loss Project