Live Age Festival: 2017

It hardly seems a year since the last Live Age Festival in Stoke-on Trent. For those who don’t know this is partly a celebration and partly a debate about the contribution older people can make to the arts and why and how participation can enhance health and well being.

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Jill working with us on our presentation

 

It’s also great fun. This year Ages and Stages, the group I belong to, did a performance on the stage of the New Vic theatre. Our piece was linked to Stoke’s bid to be City of Culture 2021 and we began rehearsals on Monday ready for performance on Friday. When I say rehearsals, I mean we began, under the direction of Jill Rezzano, to devise our piece.

Company worked on ideas, there was much heated discussion during the process, then Jill took away what we had said and came back with a script.

Looking back, this part of the process was what I enjoyed most. Way back in my childhood, I’d had visions of myself as an actress, and there was a certain frisson at being on the stage of a world renowned theatre, however the thrill of the spotlights did not compare with the buzz of working with other people to create a piece of drama.

I loved the way in which we took up each other’s ideas and worked on and modified them until no one could tell who had suggested what. As the rehearsals went on, we also became braver and making comments both about the work and the way we were delivering it.

It was a great way to spend a week and I am looking forward to our next project.

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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.

 

The Best Intentions…

The best intentions don’t always come to fruition. Once this would have sent up stress and tension, now I take a more laid back view. There is, after all, something very artificial about making resolutions on a certain date, which you promise yourself you will keep to for the rest of the year, regardless of what life throws at you, good or bad.

So, 2017 no New Year’s Resolutions, just a determination to do more of the same. After all 2016 was not a bad year.

It began with the publication of “Picking up the Pieces.” During which process a great number of lessons, some painful, others not were learned.

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Most important of all being, a thorough proof-read is vital. A good editor even more so. Thank you Peter Coleborn and Jeanne Wood.

What worked really well was the tea party I gave to launch the book. I kept it small and local. Cake was baked and wine chilled, friends and neighbours came and books were sold. Best of all, it was an occasion that everyone enjoyed and out of it came a sense of community that we hadn’t had before. Also, for me, it was another validation of myself as a writer.

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The autobiography project was another boost. Being asked to ghost write the life story of a local person was challenging, although my subject Wilhelmina Slight, couldn’t have been better. Not only was her life story fascinating, but as time went on she recalled more and more, so there was an abundance of material to chose from. And cake. At every interview she produced the most delicious coffee and cake.

 

That was followed by the Hot Air Literary Festival. Where I was on a panel on how to get published, talking about the place of the Indie Press in the publishing world. Thank you Penkhull Press and Tristram Hunt.

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At the end of the summer came the Live Age festival and another panel with fellow local authors. Jan Edwards, Ralph Alcock, Susan Bolton and once again Peter Coleborn, whose live-age16Alchemy Press has won well deserved awards, provided the professional view of small press publishing.

In the autumn, I hosted the annual Reading Cafe at the Gladstone Pottery museum and later on took part in my first public performance, “Our Lives in Art” with the Ages and Stages Theatre Company at Keele University.

Following that came the Christmas show put on the other drama group I go to. It was a condensed reading, thank you Jenni Spangler, of “Christmas is Cancelled” a play I wrote for a cast of thousands, which Jenni reduced very successfully to seven voices.

In the meantime, Jan and I set up 6×6 Reading Cafe at the City Library in Hanley and made regular appearances on 6Towns Radio.

And I wrote 65,000 words of my new novel. Edited the second edition of “Clear Gold” and read and commented on ms from other writers.

To round off the year my story came out in “Weird Ales 2” and was launched at Sledge Lit. 51htiaesyzl-_ac_us218_

 

 

 

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.

 

Being on the Radio

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Today I’ve been talking about the Live Age Festival  on Curtain Call on 6Towns Radio. For once I had to manage without my sidekick, Jan Edwards who is at Fantasy Con in Scarborough.

It seemed very odd to be driving to Burslem at four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon on my own. Even stranger when nothing went wrong in the studio. Jan has a way with electrical stuff that is nothing short of spooky.

I missed our banter, but Becs and Rob more than made up for my lack of partner. Talking to them is like chatting to friends. It’s all so easy and friendly that I soon forget that there are other people out there listening to what I have to say. So much so that I might just have let a guilty secret slip, but if you want to know what that is you’ll have to catch up with the programme.

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