Dominic Campbell (DC): If you fall in love with your older self you might make a better world that you want your children to age in
Ben Pettitt-Wade (BPW): I wasn’t as experienced in in community theatre
Arti Prashar (AP): Yeah
BPW: but then having work with the company, what what kind of strikes you and over definitely over the four years that I was there was that kind of real commitment to ensuring that… and the quality and of community level participation is of a higher standard and the importance in that and the time that’s needed to dedicate to that
Isaac Ngugi (IN): (laughs) yeah
AP: listening to each other
Cordelia Mayfield (CM): For me acting is something I never thought I would do and as I got older and joined Spare Tyre only because I saw a flyer in my doctor’s surgery saying that actors, people over 60 we, they were looking for people over 60 to take part in some drama workshops. I never dreamed it would come to this that I would actually be on stage. So I feel myself to be very privileged and we’re all very supportive of each other which is nice. Umm and I just feel spoiled, you know I'm being indulged in being able to do this now at my age.
IN: They could take any subject umm and take it as far as they wanted to. Particularly if it was a taboo subject as well. So umm sex for example. Now uhh for people with LD [learning disabilities] and for people of age umm you would think that well of course they’re human beings so they might well think about sex. That might be something that they think about. That might be something that they experience but for the rest of society umm it’s not that easy for them to accept that. Umm and that was just one subject within umm the work that we have done within Spare Tyre where our performers uhh were able to uhh proclaim their voice and what was great about that was umm it it was it was teaching the audience as well. It was actually teaching the audience that “you do realise that they do think about this? And they experience this and they’re artists so they have a right to articulate that as well.” We was only just talking uhh this morning about how uhh adults with LD uhh are continually and more and more as time progress being treated as children
IN: uhh and this was this was a form a physical theatre form that just broke that right through the window. It was just “No. They are adults.” You know I’m directing people who are older than me that have more experience that have had different experiences that have umm that are human beings and human beings want the same things. D’ya know what I mean? Or we all need the same things and it’s it’s really important to teach society that if you get to a certain age or if you have a certain disability that doesn’t change those aspects. That doesn’t change those aspects of life.
AP: So you’re, you’ve been a longstanding member of umm Spare Tyre’s umm companies uhh performing companies and you’re usually part of the older people’s companies. Umm tell us a little bit about that.
Vicky Lee (VL): Uhh well what is a very interesting thing about being a member of umm an older age group theatre is that umm we can we don’t have to be older performers. You can be a child. You can be a sexually active young woman. You can you can enter any of the areas of your life that you have lived and relive them. Or live out some things that were unlived in yourself. So I feel that umm err I feel fortunate to enter something like acting as an older person. The one of the parts that I really enjoyed was playing Salome. Uhh this is a umm from a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, to enter the words, to enter the err the feeling of the character behind the poem umm is err very interesting because I would say that although she is a character very very unlike myself there are also many emotions that Salome has that I identify with very very strongly. It’s uhh it’s a piece about a woman who umm takes men home just purely as sexual objects for herself. She has umm err a desire for to complete her own physical sexuality but it there is an underlying err dislike of the male and there is a very err bloody reveal umm in the play
AP: but do you think that audiences responded to an older performer playing that part?
VL: audiences can be very shocked at an older performer playing a part like that. They don’t I don’t think it is expected that an older person is willing to exp- explore uhh a present sexuality. A present passion uhh and intensity in emotion. I think uhh audiences expect older people to be observers of life and perhaps as wise commentators but not to actually enter the the uh emotion as a present experience.
Bonnie Mitchell (BM): And you walk into the Albany there are all of these umm sort of m-metal. I’m getting this wrong
AP: Pans. There were pans
BM: anyway these pots and pans hanging from the ceiling and they’re making this noise and there’s these smells and it’s, I totally loved that stuff like the whole multisensory kind of experiential umm nature of it and then you walk in and you’ve never seen the Albany looking like this and you see people umm these amazing sort of shadow shapes sort of behind this incredible gauze that lights up and gorgeous lighting. But I guess for me creatively umm and politically in terms of actually, yeah why shouldn’t this sort of money be spent on putting a kick-ass team together where everybody is understanding what it is to have you know a production manager, yeah, stage managers plural you know a designer, a lighting designer, umm costume, makeup? All of that like a proper full team. That felt like a really, and it was something that we had been working towards. That was like a two year in the making wasn’t it?
AP: (laughs) It was, it was a year lead up
BM: Oh my God
AP: Heavy duty (laughs)
BM: Massive. And that was the first time that we brought together
AP: The two ensembles
BM: The two ensembles. Which was really exciting and surprising
AP: It’s it’s just about it is about new group dynamics. That’s that’s kind of what we are working with. That’s what’s what it’s all about really. Umm and umm and everyone’s used to working in a very particular way. You should all be, I mean we work with both groups in a very similar way so it’s just getting to know each other really but what what is possible and what isn’t possible. Umm and that that’s what we’ve got to hold onto really and kind of our strengths you know with this
AP: So Feeble Minds was umm a show based on Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens and actually it involved umm both our ensembles. Our older people’s ensemble and our adults with learning disabilities
AP: so it was a more inclusive piece of work
DC: The first time you brought them together?
AP: The first time that we brought them together. I spent a year on developing that show
AP: umm and it involved multi art form umm and it kind of was very experiential. So we worked with the senses as well. We worked with new technology
AP: as well. So that was significant but actually at the time I wasn’t sure about the show
AP: I think it was well received because it was such a surprise at that time. You know we’re talking 10 years ago
DC: Yeah yeah
AP: to see older people and adults with learning disabilities on a stage
AP: you know working together and umm it’s it’s hindsight. With hindsight I go “actually that was a good piece of work”
AP: because then that kind of then developed into I think what we’ve come to now with something like The Garden. A show for people living with dementia
AP: which is multisensory uhh and multi art form
DC: Okay so it took all the threads from Timon
AP: It did.
AP: Well actually we’ve taken all those threads from our work I would say and my work with adults with learning disabilities
AP: you know how do people umm use different art forms with them and expression and that’s what really come through in a way and it is a beautiful show because actually it’s a non verbal piece
AP: of theatre umm that is extraordinarily inclusive
DC: and what happened at the point where you said “I think we’ll do the next one with no words for people with dementia”?
AP: (laughs) well the team wasn’t happy actually when I suggested that
DC: Hmm it was a moment
AP: It was a moment, it was a moment it was a real moment. Umm and actually I think it did take some convincing but actually once they did it
AP: they realised how brilliant it was
AP: because actually we’d removed a barrier. We’d removed the verbal barrier. People weren’t having to think about words
DC: what’s the word…
AP: yeah they weren't kind of having to remember what their meaning was and they were just responding to uhh emotion
AP: and body language
DC: Yeah. And the moment that they’re in
AP: and the moment that they’re in
DC: So one of the things that’s happening with older peoples’ work mirrors what happened with the growth of youth arts in about 1986 or 7. So I used to remember going to meetings in Brixton with people like Owen Kelly who would stand up and talk in paragraphs and be incredibly eloquent and I’d understand about the first three words and uhh and part of what he was arguing for was about the delivery of uhh the delivery of work. People would go out in a kind of colonial way and work with them young people them. And instead of working with young people and calling out whatever wanted to be made. And something similar is happ- happens with older peoples’ work. So the more that it becomes, professionalised isn’t the right word, the more it becomes sort of standardised the more it becomes everywhere. What tends to happen is people see the brand and not the the content. And so they do work which they think is the work that umm and and you, some really simple sort of ways of spotting this. If you ever see a video of some piece of work and it’s got a solo piano. Just bin that work. Forget it. Because it’s got that low key lalalala miserable thing going on. If it’s only got peoples' hands in it then it hasn’t really got people in it. It’s not really people making it. So you see these little tropes and memes. Umm and it and you see them in the videos that advertise the work or promote the work but you also see it in the work itself. And we’re we’re some of us are trying to make work which is about the process of the global planet aging or people living longer which they’ve never done before which is a miracle. It’s incredible that we can live to 90 or to 80 something on a regular basis. That’s territory we’ve never been in and so it’s a story we’ve never told so we need to tell that story differently. We need different tools. It might look different. It might be told by different people. It might take place in different platforms or different venues. And if it looks like the stuff that came before then actually it’s not doing the work that it needs to do and the artists are not doing the work that they really need should be doing and they need to step up.
AP: So I’m part of a uhh a network at the moment called Dementia Arts and Wellbeing Network. Which was set up by Nottingham University
AP: and there we’re experiencing each other’s practice and we’re debating and discussing You know
DC: and is it a kind of equal exchange of practices?
AP: It is very equal
AP: it is very equal and and I think and what’s been interesting is that so. Well actually maybe maybe it wasn’t perhaps. I I have to say when we first started I felt it was very academic. Umm but actually I think the art has come through and also what’s had to shift and change is because we also have people living with dementia coming into the conversation
AP: and experiencing you know those academic discussions. All those creative discussions. It’s shifted
DC: And and… so when you talk about the work that Spare Tyre make, or that you make with Spare Tyre or you make together with Spare Tyre, do you think of it as being thr- through separate brackets with people with learning difficulties, with gender… around …feminist issues or do you think of it as as differently connected
AP: I think they they appear to be in silos and partly they have to be in silos because that’s how the funding
AP: streams happen
AP: but the practice actually is very similar
AP: umm so the practices that we are walking into a new community, you learn the language of that community. You discover how they want to express themselves. You provide that framework. You provide those skills and then you just go “do what you want, we will support you in the risks that you want to take”
AP: “We will tell you and talk to you about perhaps what might work and what may not work but at the end of the day you will have agency to decide how you want to do that”