The Pictures Tell The Story

In The Kingdom That Danced

(c) David Wardle

Myrna Venters ‘In The Kingdom That Danced’

Some beautiful photos from the Scottish project from the Performance Ensemble (Fife Performance Ensemble) In The Kingdom That Danced

The Fife Performance Ensemble (FPE) was established in September 2013 and in its first year successfully engaged a group of 30+ over 60s in creating a performance and installation in collaboration with Internationally renowned artists.

(c) David Wardle

Gerry Mulgrew in The Kingdom That Danced

The resulting work was performed at Pathhead Hall in Kirkcaldy in October 2013, in conjuction with Luminate, Scotland’s Creative Ageing Festival.

(c) David Wardle

Gypsy Hip Hop from In The Kingdom That Danced

The success of this first programme resulted in the development of ‘In the Kingdom That Danced’ which sought to build on the first programme and delivered a high quality performance piece which worked between community, amateur and professional arts practise engaging people over the age of 60 from the heart of the community and creating site sensitive and immersive, performance work in which the audiences contributed to the performance

(c) David Wardle

More Gypsy Hip Hop from ‘In The Kingdom That Danced’

The creation of this new piece of site sensitive performance work was performed 3 times over during the Luminate Festival in October 2014 at The Glen Pavilion in Dunfermline. We involved over 150 participants aged over 60 over the period of the project. Starting in June 2014 we ran 42 workshops to encourage new participants to get involved. We ran a week-long summer school in August which attracted 35 participants and then rehearsals 4 times a week from the end of August in different locations until the performances. 38 people were in the final performance.


Paco ‘In The Kingdom That Danced’

We ran a workshops programme in Dunfermline, Lochgelly, Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy with the Summer School in Kirkcaldy and the rehearsals in Dunfermline, Lochgelly and Glenrothes encouraging people over the age of 60 from a wide location in South East and South West Fife

(c) David Wardle

The Princesses from In The Kingdom That Danced prepare to go out for the night

We gathered over 100 stories from the community participants, which has been collated into an art installation by local artist Alan Grieve and published on social media. We worked with Fife College Media College on sound recording and photography

(c) David Wardle

The Princesses trying on their shoes

FPE’s way of working is designed to create a new style of professional/community contemporary theatre that emerges slowly from a community. Successfully occupying the space between community, amateur and professional arts, recognising that each sector has a lot to learn from the others.

(c) David Wardle

Betty Cunningham  is nervous ‘In The Kingdom That Danced’

We want to continue to engage older community participants in high quality artistic processes which will provide them with personal and social fulfilment. In this phase of the project, we wish to engage more participants and create further outputs from the project which will lead to an enhanced experience for the community participants and the professionals involved.

(c) David Wardle

Sally and Sandy ‘In The Kingdom That Danced’

FPE created an ensemble of equals with everyone encouraged and supported to contribute their unique view of the world where they can celebrate those small, seemingly insignificant moments of life and express their meaning in a word, a touch, a glance or a movement. We will use the project to advocate to partners the opportunity to develop a lasting legacy establishing FPE as a permanent company

Liz Banks 'In The Kingdom That Danced'

Liz Banks ‘In The Kingdom That Danced’


(c) David Wardle

The audience dancing ‘In The Kingdom That Danced’

All Photos © David Wardle





When Community Theatre Is Just Theatre

Yukio Ninagawa

World famous, 71-year-old Japanese theatre director, Yukio Ninagawa announced in 2006 that he was setting up a year-long acting project for non theatre professional people aged 55 and over. Called the Saitama Gold Theatre it ran at Saitama Arts Centre, where Ninagawa was artistic director.

The company was formed out of Ninagawa’s desire to search for a new form of theatre based on the histories of older people. It drew applications from 1,273 hopefuls from all over Japan.  After auditioning 1,116 people face-to-face, Ninagawa finally chose 19 men and 27 women with an average age of 66.9. The company met Monday to Friday every week to undergo intensive lessons from some of Japan’s leading theatre specialists. After the year was up, Ninagawa was so excited about the prospects of the company, he continued to work with them creating  a production every year.

Seven years later in May 2013 The Saitama Gold Theatre performed at the Japan Cultural Institute in Paris.
The great thing for me to learn about the company was that it had started off as a gathering of amateurs who got into drama as a “second life.” Yet, under Ninagawa direction and training programme, the quality of their performances became very high. After six years a Japanese producer living in Paris suggested that Ninagawa put on a production in France.
Interviewed by the Japanese press Ninagawa said:

“Without a doubt, this is one of the world’s unique troupes, with seniors performing on a continuous basis. It’s three times as tiring as a normal performance to direct people with more experience than me, but putting together a production with non-actors is interesting in a different kind of way from a professional play. The joy of being seen by others makes a person healthier. Some of the performers were bedridden, but now they can commute to the rehearsal hall on foot. I wanted to create a new performing art by refining physical expression according to accumulated age.” 

Saitama Gold Theatre

One of the leading actress Etsuko Shigemoto of Saitama Gold Theatre spoke about her experience of performing in Paris, saying she forget that she was 87 years old.

“I have weak hearing and poor sight. I have problems all over my body,” she said. “But I am still young in spirit. I have already reached the afternoon of my life, but it’s wonderful to spend my last days with the company”

“Drama makes me vigorous. I am too busy to get senile. I still feel as if I was 20 years old and now my dream is to become a good actor,” said another member of the company, actor Kiyoshi Takahashi, 85.

Ninagawa has spoken lovingly about the members of Saitama Gold Theatre. I was particularly interested in an interview with him on Performing Arts Website, Japan where he analysed the quality of perfomance by one of the group:

“There is an elderly member named Mr. Toyama, and watching him perform I see qualities that no ordinary professional actor can match. In his voice, his gestures, the way he speaks and his timing  he has a completely different quality of acting that no professional actor could begin to approach. Seeing that has made me realize the value of this programme”

When I was at Northern Stage we presented The Ninagawa’s Company with a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 1996 and we had the opportunity to meet with him and discuss his work . He was a guiding inspiration in the creation of  The Northern Stage Ensemble.  Years later his work with older people, and more importantly what he learnt from creating Saitama Gold Theate, has been another of the inspirations that has guided me to create a new company, The Performance Ensemble.

The Performance Ensemble

We started out developing The Performance Ensemble in London. We ran a two week workshop based at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in August 2012. We gathered a group of professional performers, all of them over 60 years old, to come together and explore some different ways of working. We wanted to hear their stories. It was unusual for them as professional performers, with a wealth of professional experience in theatre, television and film, to play themselves and not pretend to be somebody else. Through working with them to present themselves on stage we created a beautiful, endearing and piece of ‘work in progress’.

Fife Performance Ensemble

A year later in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, we created a two month project, “Dancing Days”, with amateur and community based performers based on their own stories from the dance halls of Fife. These performers had less inhibitions in talking about themselves and telling their stories through performance. Most of them attended a weekly afternoon tea dance. They enjoyed dancing. We worked with them to let their stories emerge from within the structure of the tea dance, that they were already familiar with, and where they felt comfortable. Others joined in from various amateur theatre groups. Slowly we created an ensemble of performers who felt comfortable with a performance style that was not like that of professional performers, but one that felt completely authentic.

The common ground between professional and community/amateur performer, in both projects, was that they presented themselves completely, sincerely and with an openness and vulnerability that I have found rare in theatre today.

The Calder Valley Performance Ensemble


Our next step is to work with a mixture of professional and community-based/amateur performers. We are making a new piece with people from the  community in Mytholmroyd in the Calder Valley of West Yorkshire. After performances at Mytholmroyd Community Centre at the end of June, we will transfer the work into the professional setting of West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, this July. We will work with other local community/amateur performers as well as professional performers.  We will see what progress we make.

The most important lesson I have learnt so far in this process it that we can learn equally from the professional and the community/amateur performers and they learn from each other. This process is not a well intentioned community project, rather, it is the way we have chosen to make our piece of theatre.

We expect it to be good enough to be performed in front of a paying audience who, in turn, are expecting quality theatre. They will be moved and entertained by a company of performers, all of whom will be over 60, from many different experiences and skills. They are a theatre ensemble of equals, creating contemporary theatre of substance.

Or at least that is the plan!