In March 2020, members of the Elders and Young Companies were due to start rehearsals on a performance project devised around the theme of music. The outcome would be performed in our Studio theatre as part of Elders Exchange Day and tour to our new mobile theatre space The Den as part of our Local Exchange Theatre Festival in Leigh, Greater Manchester.
Sadly, both Elders Exchange Day, our annual event celebrating older people as markers and artists, and the Festival which had been developed and curated with local people in Leigh, were postponed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Faced with the prospect of Lockdown, we reimagined the project to take place online. Although a company of 16 performers had already been selected to take part in the original concept, we invited more people to become involved as it felt like the right time to connect people together as best we could. Up to 45 people asked to take part and were all included. Working with artists Nickie Miles-Wildin and Testament (who had already started work on the original project), we re-shaped the idea to rehearse on Zoom with a view to creating five outputs which we could share as part of a festival week. As the project developed, this evolved into an ambitious five-part series involving over 40 original characters developed through improvisations and writing tasks.
Sticking with our original theme of how music connects us, the series centred around an imagined music festival taking place somewhere in Greater Manchester. We even created and recorded a song which we later released in two versions (an 80s original and a live Festival anthem) via Bandcamp.
'Being able to connect across generations was far more important now. Music was still doing that during this surreal time, from orchestras in a Cardiff street to weekly discos in Bristol. But how could we create when not all in the same building, the same room? I now smile as I remember mobile phones being piled high on books to get the right camera angle, to internet connections dropping out, partners and pets walking into shot as we were recording crucial scenes.' Nickie Miles-Wildin, Director
None of us had worked on zoom before, so this was a massive learning curve. Drama games had to be adapted, participants supported with technology and as theatre-makers, we had to work out the best way to present this new story in a digital medium.
Following the project, small groups of participants took part in a two-hour structured conversation with the producers to feedback on their experiences including the value and challenges of the project, things to improve and advice for others leading or taking part in similar projects in the future. Participants were also asked to complete an online narrative evaluation on their own.
The creative team met with the producers to reflect on the project and share their learning for other professionals embarking on similar online and intergenerational programmes.
The report also includes observations and learning from the authors of the report who lead the Elders and Children & Young People’s programmes respectively and who co-produced the project.
Using the feedback gathered above, the report is in three sections:
1. Summary of feedback from participants (grouped into key themes)
2. Summary of feedback from professional creatives (grouped into key themes)
3. Summary of learning (a list of bullet points intended to support professionals creating similar projects in the future)
We hope that this report will share insights and learning for other professionals and participants embarking on similar projects (both intergenerational and digital) in the future.