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. When 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. 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.