Thoughts and Advice – Creative Aging International


Older Man in The Forest

Man in the Forest – Puszczykowo

At a brilliant meeting organised by the Gulbenkian Foundation in September 2014 called Sharing the Stages I met Dominic Campbell.

Dominic, like me,  was exploring news ways of working and developing projects. He had run the Bealtaine Festival, Ireland’s groundbreaking “celebration of creativity as we age” for many years and was now looking for like minded people who might share some of his philosophies and principles. He was a breath of fresh air to talk with.

Over the next year we kept in contact and discussed ways we might collaborate.

I was developing my own project with communities in West Yorkshire in collaboration with West Yorkshire Playhouse. The Anniversary Project is a long term project to create work and engage in conversations about creativity and older people.

I asked him to help me through my process – below  is what he wrote

Contextualisation of Creativity In Older Age.

Written to accompany a bid from Alan Lyddiard to ACE for support with Anniversaries, a developing project of Performance Ensemble.


“By 2030 half the population of Western Europe will be over 50 with a life expectancy at that age of a further 40 years. This will be historically unprecedented as we have never before had a region of the world with over half its population over 50.”

Dr Sarah Harper, Professor of Gerontology at Oxford University and Director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing.

May you live in interesting times.

As a consequence of public healthcare programs, education and scientific advancement we are living healthier for longer. Much longer.

On current projections one in two teenage girls has a 50% chance of living to be a centenarian. In the UK expect to see a lot more centenarians – 500,000 by 2050, 1million by 2100. 80+ is the fastest growing cohort of the population.

What might this look like? What will it affect? What will be the new normal?

If you get to 50 and you’re likely to live 40 more years might you start a new career?.

If you’re 90 and your kids are 70 and their kids are 50 and theirs 30 and they’ve got ten year olds then will we still be passing on wealth bound up in house ownership?

If the majority of the population are old who is working to create the tax base to pay for the care to support them?, and where do the younger professionals who deliver that care come from?

In economics there is talk of a shift from the Green Economy to the Silver as older populations become a significant source of disposable income seeking age appropriate experiences and products.

In the health sector there is talk of the shift from acute medicine to a population at scale that live with chronic illness, and a shift to community care to respond to the challenges.

Across transport and travel, leisure and lifestyle, from city planning to the human resource departments of DIY retailers, the affects and opportunities of an aging population are slowly starting to influence decision making.

Often this influence is framed by a medical model of older age. Age is seen as a healthcare issue. How are the frail older people supported. So there are calls for better planning, senior ministers and system change. There is a demand for better co-operation between agencies, more resources, more research.

But what if at its core this isn’t a medical issue but a cultural one?

If we can’t look clearly at the issue how can we address the challenges? And in our youth obsessed, individualistic, consumerist landscape old age is a hard sell.

Surely the heart of the challenge is how we feel about ageing, and why we avoid thinking about it. It is with the narratives we tell ourselves about aging.

Perhaps the core issues are stereotyping and invisibility. We fear becoming vulnerable and we fear death.

So how might we fall in love with our older selves?

“If health is about adaptation, understanding and acceptance, then the arts may be more potent that anything that medicine has to offer” Richard Smith, British Medical Journal Editorial December 2002.


“ If you didn’t know what are you are, what age would you be?” Satchel Page

Considering life through the lens of contemporary old age is a truly radical act. It reframes values and debates. It repositions individuals in relation to society. Questions previously long fingered for another day become instantly foregrounded or irrelevant. Time shifts. Legacy rather than career comes into play. Emotional articulacy. Care. Friendships. It is not a time for living in the past or the future but living fully in the moment.

And we mark out those moments with anniversaries. Anchors in time.

But human “old” does not run on an industrialised timepiece. We don’t all clock on at the allotted start time. It’s organic and arrives by accrual. Its affected by poverty and happiness, by loneliness and location, by diet and career. We find ourselves there, or nearly there, certainly more nearly there than we were before, definitely older, but never quite arrived at being, old.

Perhaps “old” is measured by a yardstick of loss. A loss of mobility, a loss of ambition, a loss of connectedness. The loss of friends and family members. A loss of muscle tone, a reduced of sharpness of vision, a blurring in hearing, a fuzziness in thinking, some change in clarity.

Yet that’s only no more than half a story. We have collected. We have gathered. We have seen, we have listened, recorded and we have understood. We are the experts of our own experience and became so simply by continuing. We embody the extended past in the present. We are the living libraries of our own knowledge. We can do breadth and depth of understanding. We can accept two emotions in the same incident as a true reflection of life’s capriciousness. Bittersweet and Happy-sad. The Glorious Temporary. The mundane everyday exists in porous exchange with an infinite magic as we reach the edge of our own individual transition back and forward to unknowingness. Ashes to ashes. Dust to Stardust.

How to share these experiences? How to enrich our understanding of this period of being alive?

How do people gathered in a room begin to acknowledge and exchange all this complexity?

To bear witness to their own growing understanding at the moment of its continuous lived occurrence?

Is this not reason enough for theatre?

Dominic Campbell November 2015



2 thoughts on “Thoughts and Advice – Creative Aging International

    • Most definitely – I am wondering if a company of elders like Ninagawa’s Saitama Gold Theatre or the work in Singapore with Alvin Tan could be developed near you – I would love to help

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