Family Arts Conference

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From young children, to grandparents and every age in between, how can people and their families be involved in the Arts? And indeed why should they be?

These were some of the questions tackled at the Family Arts Conference in Bristol this week. Delegates spoke about the need for inclusion, for family friendly performances, for access for people who are disabled. Among other topics there was mention of role models for various disadvantaged groups, among which older people can be included. Some are isolated through circumstances, or ill health, others are on very low incomes and all of us have been castigated by the media for robbing the next generation of any hope of owning a home of their own, taking their jobs and being a huge burden on the NHS.

Whatever our circumstances, being older is not currently valued in our society and however hard you try this attitude does inevitably affect the way you see yourself. Being an artist, in whatever discipline, however, allows you to value yourself and your work.

I took part in the Family Arts Conference as a delegate from Ages and Stages Theatre Company. ages-and-stages-5When Jill Rezzano our director, co-ordinator, leader, I’m not sure which title adequately describes all that she does, asked for volunteers, Jackie and I said we would be interested in taking part.

At our session on Intergenerational Work for Older Families, Jill gave a succinct run down of the inception of Ages and Stages and all the work the company has done since then. Jacky and I talked about how we joined the company and what being part of a theatre group has done for us.

My involvement came about by accident. I’d gone along to the Live Age Festival fully intending to take part in one of the writing workshops. When I got to the venue however it occurred to me that taking part, and/or leading workshops is something I’ve done numerous times and maybe opting for the drama workshop would be an opportunity to challenge myself.

I enjoyed the session so much that I came along to the next meeting of Ages and Stages at the New Vic and the rest as they say is history.

On a more serious note, being challenged is one of the reasons why taking part in the Arts is so important. It is so easy to stay safely ensconced in the comfort zone, but, once you dare to set foot outside it, life becomes infinitely richer and more exciting.

I found myself acting in public for the first time since my university days. I was challenged, not just by performing, but because I had to attain the same high standard as the rest of the group.

It is this striving for excellence, even though you know that you will never reach it, which is why the Arts matter so much. It is also the reason why, one day, in some glorious future, there will be no need to have conferences about inclusion because people will be valued for what they have contributed to their art, not for who, or how old or young they are.

In the meantime, I had a great day in Bristol. The sun shone, the sky was blue, Jill, Jacky and I ate our picnic lunch outside.240px-Stgeorgeschapel The venues were great and I learned so much  from the speakers in our session; Fergus Early and his inter-generational work with The Green Candle Dance Company, Susan Langford, the director of Magic Me and Emma Robinson of Age Cymru and Kate Organ whose talk on the Inclusion for Older Family Members was truly inspirational.

 

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Jill Rezzano: Guest Blog

  • My Guest Blogger today is Jill Rezzanoages-and-stages-5

I live in Leek with my family, husband Kevin who is a painter and our children Sofia who is 12 and Ava who is 7. I’ve been at the New Vic since 1999, which is quite a long time, but it’s an ever evolving, exciting place and tends to hang on to people because of this. Before I came to the New Vic, I worked for English Touring Theatre and also in Hampshire and Northern Ireland, which was a great experience. I also write both plays and prose and I’m in the middle of a book for children about the friendship between a refugee child and young British boy. It’s quite challenging, because so much between them is unsaid.

  • Can you tell us about your work at the New Vic?

I work in the Education Department at the New Vic and that title ‘Education’ covers a lot of ground. We are committed to life long learning, so we create projects for very young children and their families, often with children’s centres, where we can support people who are not currently accessing creative activities. We also work with schools and colleges to develop creative approaches across the curriculum. This often happens in partnership with other organisations for this, including the Royal Shakespeare Company, We also have a large Youth Theatre and work who also work with Ages and Stages on intergenerational projects.

Can you tell us about your work with Keele University? In particular, Live Age and the development of the Ages and Stages Theatre Company.

It started way back in 2004, when we were approached by Professor Miriam Bernard. Mim wanted to create an intergenerational piece of theatre for a conference event at Keele. The idea was to use theatre as an innovative way of sharing knowledge with researchers about relationships between older and younger people and how people reflect on their earlier life experiences. This first piece ‘Stages’ was directed by my colleague Susanna Harding and although that was a one off, it made us believe that more was possible. From there, it was a question of getting the funding and the right sort of project to research and make more creative work from. 2012 was the year that the British Society of Gerontology conference was coming to Keele and it was also the 50th Anniversary of the New Vic/New Victoria Theatre Company, this seemed a golden opportunity to aim for. Through Keele University, led again by Mim Bernard, we managed to gain funding from the Economic and Social Research council to explore the community’s relationship with the theatre and how that has intersected with their own lives. We ended up with a massive amount of research material and interviews both from local people and those who had been affected by this theatre before moving on. From here, in the spirit of Peter Cheeseman’s famous Theatre documentaries, we wanted to create a documentary of our own telling those stories. So, of course we needed people to perform the documentary and to create it with us and we asked the people we interviewed to do this with us. It was characteristic of the beginning of the Ages and Stages project that we just didn’t know if anybody would!  Fortunately, people did agree to work on the piece with us.  After this documentary performance, which was called ‘Our Age, Our Stage.’ We realise that people wanted to carry on and do more and from here the Ages and Stages company began to form. Since then, we have made a number of pieces which have toured in the community and performed at a number of venues, most recently Keele as part for the Back to the Drawing Board exhibition. We are always looking for the next challenge for the Ages and Stages Company, whether it’s the venue or the subject matter, it’s a very innovative group. A huge amount has come out of this work, including The Live Age festival which is led by Keele University and Ages and Stages always play a big role in.

  • What are the positives and negatives about working with a group of older people?

Well firstly, we have access to a huge amount of life experience and backgrounds, which is both an incredible privilege and an incredible resource. There is also an amazing work ethic in the group, I don’t really make any distinction between what I would demand of people of any age in a rehearsal situation. Also, I find in the group everyone takes responsibility for their work. If someone is having a difficulty with their performance, whether it’s about the space or remembering aspects of the staging, people work it out. The only drawback I find is that so called ‘retired’ people are incredibly busy and involved and so it’s not always easy to have everyone together for every project.

  • Do you think that Ages and Stages should concentrate on community based work, or would you like to develop more creative pieces?

What is interesting is that more mainstream theatre is constantly trying to get closer to the reality of people’s lives, to be more authentic and connect with people in the community.  I start from the premise that human beings are innately storytellers and the urge to tell stories is strong and vital to our existence. We do it all the time, from anecdotes about our day to huge epic tales. For me, the quality and the truth that is revealed through storytelling in Theatre, is where creativity lies, rather than the places where it is seen . The work made by Ages and Stages often works best in smaller intimate spaces where we can interact with audiences and put them at the centre of what we do.

  • Where did the inspiration for Our Lives in Art come from?

Our Lives as Art was originally made fort he Live Age festival in 2015. The festival coincided with a major exhibition of work by LS Lowry and Arthur Berry at the Potteries Museum. Immediately, I wanted to create a piece to perform in the gallery surrounded by this work. In the end, it wasn’t possible to perform in the gallery itself, but the inspiration stayed. I was interested in exploring two main ideas, firstly how art, whether visual or literary often defines how we see the important moments of life and in some cases the important moments of history. I wanted to look at how we might make those choices about which moments would define our lives and see them as equally valid subjects for Art. Also, the artists themselves often divide opinion, they both depict ‘ordinary people’ making them extraordinary and I enjoyed hearing the strong opinions about both, whether loving or hating them, always passionate. So, what is it about art that can capture or repel us? what is a work of art saying to us that we also recognise so strongly in ourselves?

  • What piece of art would you have chosen and why?

I think it would have to be a painting by Ivon Hitchings called ‘Two Ways through a Wood’ because it’s the first painting that really stopped me in my tracks and I couldn’t stop looking at it. The way he uses colour is amazing, It’s like you see colours anew because of the way in which he places them next to each other and they appear to ‘wake each other up.’  Also, even though it’s quite abstract, the composition gives you a real sense of story and of choice and opportunity. But, also there’s a darkness, because it’s so unclear where the paths could take you.

  • Would you like to direct more conventional work? Ie. Shows for the main theatre.

I’m very excited by what I’m doing now. There is so much more to explore and understand about people’s real lived experience and how we can create work that reflects that experience back to us. Theatre is essentially about transformation and change, whether it’s in a character’s journey or the situation of a whole group of people, and in telling our own stories we can transform how we see ourselves and the world.

  • What do you do to relax?

I find it very hard to relax, I can always think of something that needs doing! But when I get the chance I love to listen to music and especially live music. Also, you really can’t beat a long walk on a windswept beach in winter.

  • What is your favourite food?

I think I’ll always yearn for the wonderful Italian food that my mum made for us. It’s always stood me in good stead, because you can make the most beautiful meals from very simple ingredients.

 

Our Lives in Art

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What is your favourite piece of art? What memories does it conjure up? What feelings? And why? When Jill asked me those questions my mind went blank, only to be ambushed seconds later by a swirl of images. The picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that hangs in my mum’s dining room has so much family history behind it. The portrait of a small boy clutching a bird, painted sometime in the fifteenth or sixteenth century, by an artist I can’t remember, but the child’s pale face and determined expression held me wrapt whenever I visited the Art Gallery at Bristol Museum. My sister’s painting of a street in Clifton, which has partly inspired my latest work in progress. And there are so many, many more.

So which to choose? In the end it was the Wilton Diptych with its blaze of blue and gold, and the memory it invoked of my first year as a student in London, that was the inspiration for my voice over in “Our Lives in Art.”

Other members of Ages and Stages Theatre Company have chosen their own pictures, or sculptures and working together with our director Jill Rezzano have put together a piece to be performed at Keele University as part of “Back to the Drawing Board.” A celebration of the life and work of Peter Rice and Pat Albeck, the parents of Mathew Rice who is of course married to Emma Bridgewater.

“Our Lives in Art” was first performed at the Live Age Festival two years ago and has been re-shaped for the occasion. Which was lucky for me as this time I could take part, not only in the performance but also in the creative process.ages-and-stages-5

From our memories and our pictures, we’ve shaped our stories. There are moments of profound sadness, humour and uplifting insight. We’ve used music and speech and movement and,  of course, the frames.. A brilliant concept that enables us by removing, or stepping out of them to bring our pictures to life. The only trouble is remembering where your particular frame has been placed on the set and the fear of not propping it up properly so that it slides with a great crash to the ground in the middle of the action.

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I’m trying not to think about that in the run up to the performance date, nor of forgetting my lines, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I know that Jill will keep us calm and that we will all support each other, because the creating and the interacting with others it’s really all about.

Oh and going out there in front of everyone and showing them what we can do.

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