I have been lucky enough to attend two Elders events this week:
1. Elders Exchange day that was held as part of the Age of Creativity festival
2. The Elders usual Wednesday afternoon session.
The Elders Exchange day was held on 1st October and the Theatre opened its doors with some free workshops as part of a celebration of ageing and culture. The day included improvisation, movement, creative writing and screen printing (run by a team from the Whitworth Art Gallery). The day gave me a chance to see some non-drama activities run for older people - the creative writing workshop I attended was especially interesting in this respect. We used the building as inspiration - including the architecture and objects in it, as well as the people we saw and conversations we overheard. Andy said it was an important part of scheduling the day to have an activity that was less physically demanding, as a way of ensuring the day remained accessible to all.
The event demonstrated really clearly what the Exchange does so well with their Elders Company- and that is integrating them as fully as possible into the life of the building. The company members look so at home as they walk around the building - they know their way around backstage, they know where the mugs are to make a brew, and in some ways probably feel more at ease than some of the professional actors who work here for maybe only six weeks at a time. The company members were responsible for most of the running of the day - welcoming visitors, announcing the spoken word performances, assisting the workshop leaders. I noticed that the Creative Learning and Engagement Producer Chris Wright, who oversaw the event’s logistics, knew each of the Elders by name and felt that this was a testament to how much the company feels truly a part of the organisation.
Although all of this may seem outside of the traditional role of a facilitator, these things all seems so useful to me if I am to plan successful community projects in the future. The environment and atmosphere you create for a project is integral to the work you do with your participants in the rehearsal room.
The session that Andy ran on the following Wednesday was a continuation of the work the group are doing on storytelling this term. We focused on space and the effect that has on how we receive a story. We got the chance to go into the ‘Module’, (or the main stage to us lay people). Having visited this Theatre many times as a child, I was very excited to be on this incredible stage, that some people have called the best theatre space in the country! We experimented with telling a story to just one person, then to a small group and then to the whole audience. Andy pointed out the challenges of being a performer in this space, and trying to create a sense of intimate storytelling for up to 750 people at a time.
As Andy was speaking, another thing clicked for me about the sessions; they are designed to really develop the participants’ understanding of theatrical practice and theatre-making. These aren’t beginner sessions for people just to pass the time on a Wednesday afternoon. They are of course very enjoyable, but also seek to develop the company members as artists. And I believe that is another important pillar of how the Royal Exchange has developed its Elders programme.
Elders Company is for everyone aged 60+ who wants to feel connected to new people and ideas, develop performance skills and make boundary-pushing theatre that challenges negative stereotypes of ageing.