Anchors In Time

photo Sara Teresa

photo Sara Teresa

Dominic Campbell has been working with The Performance Ensemble, in the role of  dramaturg for the last few months, on their latest production ‘Anniversary’.

The Performance Ensemble is an ensemble theatre company of performers aged 60 years and older.

They work with performers from various cultural backgrounds; creating contemporary theatre for audiences of all ages, working in the space between professional, community and amateur arts.

The Ensemble blurs the divide between community and professional arts.

‘We aspire to create world class theatre performance that emerges from the heart of communities’

‘Anniversary’ is on at West Yorkshire Playhouse from 14th to 17th September 2016. Tickets available here.

Here are Dominic’s reflections from the rehearsal room.

Reflections 

The lives of the fastest growing populations in the UK are a bit of a mystery.

 “Since mid-2005, the UK population aged 65 and over has increased by 21%, and the population aged 85 and over has increased by 31%. The number of males aged 85 and over has increased by 54% since mid-2005, compared to a 21% increase for females.” 

The Office for National Statistics.

“There is a dearth of research into the lived experience of older people” 

The National Institute For Health and Care Excellence

Projections suggest 500,000 Centenarians will be living in the UK by 2050, 1 million by this centuries end. 250,000 more people than live in Leeds. Over the next 50 years the percentage of working people to retired will shift from 6:1 to 2:1. The extraordinary change in public health enabling UK populations to live longer is having miraculous affect. Our world is changing each day we age within it. The landscape of this change is our lives.  This is about us.

Except its not. Its about us a little bit after tomorrow.

Because one of the great mysteries of ageing is no-one ever arrives at being old. Currently it’s not something people easily accept.  When asked what old is five year olds say six,  twenty year olds say forty, fifty years olds seventy and ninety-five year olds point across the room at ninety-eight year olds and shrug.  Old seems always just out of reach of experience.

Except its not.

Old is not running up the stairs. Not being able to eat food you like or drink all night. It’s not being able to touch your toes. It’s living with news of an ever increasing number of friends becoming ill and frail. It’s living on after the death of loved ones. It’s giving up driving. Giving up on wanting to go to China, wondering whether you might go to Edinburgh again, or Wakefield, or can ever again be bothered to shop in central Leeds.

Old is richness born from living with loss. Experience tempered by resilience. Elusive it lies on the edge of our experience. A state we’re constantly moving into.

Tamara McLorg Choreographer & Performer Photo Thomas Hirst

Tamara McLorg Choreographer & Performer Photo Thomas Hirst

So how to put ageing on stage? And why?

To start with the obvious: artist’s are people too. They’re living longer healthier. They continue creating. There’s no retirement age for artists. There is need to adapt. Which is as true if they’re stiffening dancers, arthritic violin players, Leonard Cohen, Mick Jagger or Kate Bush. Or if they’re someone who at 70 brings a lifetime of experience to their emergent artistic practice. Or if living with dementia in a care home they are most engaged when listening to music or explaining what they see in paintings.

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Theatre director Alan Lyddiard’s approach is to form a new company as he approaches 70. Then with his company, The Performance Ensemble, to explore ageing through the processes of performance making.

The Performance Ensembles’ “Anniversary” project connects people with a lifetime of diverse experience, including some whose lifetime’s experience includes performing professionally.  Through play, improvisation and experimentation they are making theatre from the raw material of lived experience. Every word in “Anniversary” is from the cast. The task they’ve set themselves to carrying the story of contemporary ageing.

Anniversary

Hum Crawshaw Performer Photo Thomas Hirst

Gradually with each show this loose group of associates is developing  deeper understanding and articulacy. 60, 70 and 80 year olds wrestling to find appropriate theatre language to carry  the story of their own experience of ageing is truly radical. Which stories to tell? Which keep and why? How do they honour themselves and their own sensations?

More complex than simply telling the story of a body changing its behaviours they are finding expression for mature emotion. Seeking to share the sensation of feeling 13 years old in a 73 year old body. Articulating the bitter-sweetness of new relationships after breakdowns or deaths of life-long loves. Being surprised by rich joys when doing something simple and long promised. Reconnecting or renewing a sense of who one is and is still becoming. Remaining in public, visible, struggling with memory and sequencing.

Equally they questioning the expectation they reduce their potential by acting familiar. People don’t only age with time, they age with an aggregation of experiences. “Anniversary” wonders why limit oneself by acting  “old”.

'Anniversary'

Barbara Newsome Performer Photo Thomas Hirst

I turn to see Barbara (87) bending to put on her socks and worried she’ll fall offer her my chair. “No. Fek off” she says, firmly but considerately.

“Sometimes they make us go to the theatre. Why? Its depressing. I can stay at home watch the telly  and do that” Attendee at a day care session in an arts centre”

If  theatre is only made by 20 – 30 year olds you may find yourself well versed in the challenges of first relationships and the vexed questions of family and career.

If you watch only Shakespeare you may be able to arrange and inspire long bow men should you ever find yourself at the battle of Agincourt, or become eloquent in the language of summer sprites.

You’ll have an oddly balanced view of the world.

Anniversary Company Work in Progress photo Thomas Hirst

Anniversary Company Work in Progress photo Thomas Hirst

If you watch theatre made of the substance of lives growing old what might you discover to help you with your own?

But why should an audience gift time from their lives for an hours entertainment or engagement with physical failure?.  What’s entertaining about aches and pains, creaking bones and failing eyesight?

In an ageing population the odds are you will live to slow down. You won’t always be successful. The things you build from hard endeavour may crumble despite your best intentions. You may find yourself old with new uncertainties. Most will move with inevitably from the so called 3rd Age to the 4th Age. With intelligence and wit intact transfer from being independent, to needing help. From continent to incontinent while fully aware. From self reliant to reliant increasingly. You are going to need tolerance and resilience. You’ll need all the humour you can find. You’re going to need the consolations of beauty.

As audiences we’re used to seeing the beauty of a 24 year old extend exquisite limbs and pirouette. We understand its beautiful. We’re accustomed to poetics from 17th century bards. We recognise it as eloquent and it goes in the “poetry” box in our brain. We’ve even adapted to the shock of artistic ambassadors who wrestle plays from troubling experience.

But performers with arthritis look stiff. Fifty year olds backs bend less. Where is the poetry in failing memories and the articulacy in increasing deafness?.

Artists working with ageing populations face the challenge of framing and revealing in a way that reveals bounty. Audiences are invited to see older performance not as falling short of achieving what a younger body can, but as offering something that only an older person could. Echoing art built on an understanding of the social model of disability or rejecting the notion of neuro-normalcy, this is a performance language with its own values, its own aesthetics, with clear intent and its own articulacy.

“To be kind is to be on the side of life. Fucking. Lovely. Wild. Life” Jay Griffiths

ANNIVERSARY

Photo Sara Teresa

A Generous Theatre

The work in ‘Anniversary’ has an aesthetics built from kindness and tenderness, from sensitivity between people, from awareness of the needs of others and accommodation toward them. It’s visible in a hand reaching out, or a glance, and that raising of a voice without change in tone that makes it possible to hear. It’s in clarity of communication. An allergy to patronising. In patience with repetition. Its built from mature adult empathy with human fragility. From understanding that we are all like that, and recognition we may be like that soon. Audiences thus engaged hold both the story and the storyteller in their collective breath. This is a ‘Generous Theatre’.

It is useful, this performance, in nations divided by economic wealth and poverty, by sustained inequality and prejudice, by an individual’s instinct to extend a welcome or to build a wall. By fear and the fear of fear. Its valuable to know we all end up the same.  It’s invaluable to know that people look out for people. That it’s possible someone will be looking out for us when we are in need. That its ok to place ourselves in the vulnerability of compassion.

That caring is beautiful.

And it’s funny. We get kindness wrong. We use care as a weapon. We get irritated. We get frustrated with ourselves and others. And that’s part of ageing. It’s absurd, unavoidably hilarious, full of telling cliché as we recognise ourselves on the point where we’re becoming other.

We make up the world we’re living in. As our bodies age and our souls grow separate we must continue to do so. It’s vital. We have choices to make about our legacy.

Connie Hodgson & Namron in rehearsal

Connie Hodgson & Namron

If lived experience is more than the consumption of lifestyle choices. If society is a culture and not an economy. Then we need bravery in old age on stage. We need people on the stage before us with the courage to embody care and compassion. To show wear and tear: time’s tattooing of bodies, experience’s patina of the psyche. To demonstrate that life isn’t a linear race where all the jigsaw pieces fall easily into place and it all makes sense at the end. But that its complicated and hard, and filled with humour and gloriousness, and unpredictable, and dull, and frustrating and rich and messy and vibrant and there is never enough time and all of this we may experience all the way everyday, until we too pass, and the light goes out.

“I am so forgetful. Sometimes I forget to breathe” Connie Hodgson, Performer ‘Anniversary’

© Dominic Campbell

Anniversary – Looking Back, Looking Forward

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In July 2016 ten performers came together at West Yorkshire Playhouse to start work on a new piece of theatre called Anniversary. 

The Anniversary Project is a collaborative process, bringing together people from different walks of life to create one piece of work. Including a combination of five older professional performers and five performers from Heydays, West Yorkshire Playhouse’s creative programme for older people.

Working with older people is really important for many reasons. 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.

Yet in the busy life we lead we can forget the elderly. 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 sharpness of vision, a blurring in hearing, a fuzziness in thinking, some change in clarity.

Yet that is only part of the 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 have something important to say

Here is an introduction to the performers involved in the project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anniversary

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

 

I am 66 years old. I’ve got my state pension and my free bus pass and I am counting it as income towards my new company, The Performance Ensemble. I feel like I am an emerging artist again, working on a limited income, starting on a new enterprise that will keep me going until I can work no more.

I am developing an Ensemble Company – working together over a long period of time, creating work and improving it over years. I made a version of “Animal Farm” that stayed in the Northern Stage repertoire for 12 years. My adaptation of “1984” is still being produced across the world. That’s the way I like to work, with people I admire over long periods of time, growing the work together. We create work that never stays still, always looking for more depth, more nuance, more clarity.

We start by working within a community setting, creating work, then develop that work with the introduction of professional performers and other artists. The community participants teach the professionals and, in turn, the professionals teach and help develop the skills of the community/amateur participants. The important thing is that we learn from each other.

One of my main inspirations for the setting up of The Performance Ensemble is world famous, 72 year old Japanese theatre director, Yukio Ninagawa. We presented Ninagawa’s work at Northern Stage and I had the opportunity to meet him and discuss his work. I met him again recently when I travelled to Japan to see the work of his company.

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

Over the last year I have established a very strong relationship with West Yorkshire Playhouse (WYP) that has allowed me to develop The Performance Ensemble to a place where it is now capable of creating a higher quality of performance with older people. I work closely with the arts development programme and the producing, technical and marketing teams at WYP in the creation of the work and its relationship with audiences. This is invaluable, and will allow me to expand my capacity to produce theatre with one of England’s leading regional theatres. It is a professional partnership founded on open, respectful communication working to the shared aims of valuing and empowering older people through performance. There is great value in working together, pooling our expertise gained over many years of practice at the highest level of integrity and professional achievement. One of the key relationships is with Heydays, WYP’s flagship creative programme for people over 55.

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

‘Anniversary’ is a new multi-media dance and theatre performance created by older artists, including both professional and community performers. It will involve true stories, original live music, dance and video imagery to be performed at WYP next year.

The first stage, a work in progress will commence shortly.

The final piece will be created in 2016. It will be directed by me, choreography by Royston Maldoom, with a new musical composition by Christopher Bensted and will include a combination of five older professional performers including Namron (dancer with London Contemporary Dance Theatre) Tamara McLorg (Choreographer/dancer) Sally Owen (dancer with Ballet Rambert), Vilmore James (Founder member of Phoenix Dance) Alex Elliott (Founder member of Northern Stage Ensemble) together with five performers from WYP’s older person project, Heydays’ drama/dance group.

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

 

In the first stage these performers will work with Royston for two weeks to create a piece of dance. This two week development process will be filmed and will include documentary footage of all the performers’ lives outside the rehearsal room. We will capture their home life, travelling to work, the rehearsal process and their social lives and outside of these two weeks we will capture the birthday celebrations of the choreographer and some of the company.

This material will be used as part of the final performance. We will create a film and sound/music score as the piece is created. We will project/display images of the lives and careers of the performers over a period of 25 years, creating a kaleidoscope of images and text that crosses many different styles of presentation. This would include storytelling, conversation, dance, music, film design and other visual theatre techniques. The piece will reflect the lives of a unique group of older people and their relationship with creating the performance and how it affects their daily lives.

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

The first sharing of the piece with the public will be in July 2015, when the piece of dance will launch at WYP’s Open Season 2015.

In 2016 the dance piece will be developed into a theatre piece to be performed on the Courtyard stage at WYP. After these performances the piece will be developed further in Scotland for performances for the Luminate Festival 2016. The Performance Ensemble have a long association with Luminate, having performed in the last two festivals. ‘Anniversary’ has also been invited to Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London for The Elixir Festival 2016

 

 

Searching for a City of Sanctuary


City of Sanctuary was a sit-specific performance piece performed on 27th June 2013 as part of the Festival of the North East at St John the Baptist Church in Newcastle upon Tyne. It was a partnership between The Cyrenians, Northumbria University, West End Refugee Services, Freedom From Torture, Lawnmowers Independent Theatre Company, Better Days, Crossings Music Unite and many amazing individuals.

Julia Darling: Searching for a City of Sanctuary

Much of the inspiration for the production of ‘Searching for a City of Sanctuary’ has come from my work at The Cyrenians  homeless charity.

But my other inspiration has been Julia Darling who I worked with, just before she died in April 2005, on a production of  “Manifesto for a New City” written by Julia.

She was a beautiful, kind woman who I used to meet occassionally over the years. She always had a smile for me, was always interested in what was going on in her city.

Below are some of her words that will be in our performance

You can find out more about the show and book your free tickets here

“When I arrived here it was so dark, early evening, deep in a month like January, smouldering with the embers of Christmas. I walked down to the quayside. I was surrounded by voices, by shunting trains, calling to me. I knew I would never leave, that this place was more than a city, more than stones and roads. It was heart and flames. I walked into it. I listened to its rough edges. I settled like a cat in its corners, and I watched it change over decades.

Imagine that you could build a utopia, that this place could be different to any other, a city that was not knitted into capitalism like every other place in the world. A free town, a place of the imagination. Where poets. like me, had the upper hand? What would we do? Has it already been done?

I am not really a political person
I am not someone who goes to meetings
I just like imagining things

I came here looking for a home
And I fell into the arms of the city
And the city was a thin black cat,
And it was a bright red fire
And we were lucky and warm
And the people said come here hinny
Said, have a bed, have a beer, have a blessing
And we will give you the long northern day
And you can lie in the strong hands of night
And so, I never turned back.
And this was my home and my saviour.”

The Manifesto For Tyneside Upon England

“Friends. I am inventing a life in which your ingredients are returned to you!
Our lives are run by car parks, carrier bags, suits and credit cards.

So, from this evening I am removing power from our city leaders
and this city shall be run by its artisans and makers, by bread-kneaders
and stone masons, sculptors and chocolate fanciers, by egg painters and flower arrangers, blacksmiths and conjurors.

The old leaders shall go to the great hall, where they shall be asked to cut up their suits and make them again.

And I am confiscating all luxury flats and offices and giving them rent free to artists and makers.

All property developers shall report to the great hall for retraining in creative play.

All supermarkets will be barricaded, all chain stores closed.

Fenwick’s Fine food, the tobacco shop on Pink Lane, the delicatessen counter in Café Royale, and Brighton Oriental Stores, Taylors on North Shields Fish Quay, the Sweet Shop on Heaton Road, and other particular businesses will be allowed to flourish.

Everyone shall be taught the history of their street. (Joan Miro, the great Catalan artist said that to be truly cosmopolitan we should begin by learning about our home.)

There shall be no brown signs, no information stands, no mobile phone centres, no mobile phones.

We shall each learn a disappearing language.

And there shall be compulsory napping from 2.00 p.m to 3.00 p.m each day. Workforces must be provided with blankets and mattresses. Musicians from the hills shall play them to sleep.

No one should own more than they can carry.

We shall pull down Eldon Square and rebuild it as it was.

I shall rebuild Handyside Arcade.

We shall pull down Swan House Roundabout, and make the Tyne Bridge pedestrian.

Each of us will learn a contemporary dance.

We shall not travel, although we may have pen pals and we are free to imagine travel.

The air of the new city shall smell of pies.

There will be many bicycle repair shops and free bikes.

The city shall be filled with the sounds of making, of sparking metal, of whirring minds, of fresh cheese, of new poetry.

We shall all discuss small things.

There shall be lesbian happy hour between six and seven.

Schools will be small. Doctors will be cheerful.

Everyone shall make their own coffin and use it as a table.

We shall be encouraged to grow English apples and raspberries.

Plain English shall be used at all times.

Porridge and soup will be plentiful.

Visitors , who will come in droves, must bring gifts to the great hall. Perhaps food, chocolate or wine would be appropriate. These gifts shall be shared equally. You cannot enter the city without a gift.

We shall know our saints.

We shall know our devils.

Friends. I am inventing a life in which your ingredients are returned to you!
Our lives are run by car parks, carrier bags, suits and credit cards.

This is my homage to you.”

Julia Darling copywright.