Friday, 27 July 2012

Taking part in Ages and Stages, by Olympia Pattison-Corney

On my first day of Ages and Stages I had absolutely no idea of what to expect. We had been told about it in Youth Theatre and, thinking that it sounded interesting, I applied.  In the first session, as an ice breaker, we told two truths and one lie. So out came the incredible truths and the unfeasible lies. Guessing which the lies were was hilarious, and with that the void of ages had been breached. 

When I first applied to be in Ages and Stages I wrote on my application that I thought I could learn from people with more life experience. I have realised that in this I was naive. The older members of the group haven’t just had more life experience they’ve had a completely different experience of life. What fascinates me is that I’m hearing about things that I have never seen with my own eyes. Getting to know the older members I feel like I am able to begin to bridge the gap between the times and start to understand. I realised quickly that age isn’t representative of a person’s ability or personality but that it simply records the years that they have lived through. We were told the story of a 94 year old woman shopping in Hanley who when walking past a charity shop saw a piece of china that she had painted and saw her own signature on the back. Working with the group has taught me not to judge a person by their age or by what they’re wearing. As someone surmised in a group session “An old man in a hoody looks like a youth until you really look.”

I have loved working with the group and think that they are all amazing people. 

Olympia Pattison-Corney - Ages and Stages Theatre Company 

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Second homes in magical John Shapcott

It is not only the wealthy who can afford second homes in magical places. I first discovered the Vic as a Keele student in the late 1960s and, apart from a few years working in and around London, it has been my second home ever since. London theatre is world-class but it doesn’t have that unique combination of immediacy, intimacy, community and involvement found at the old Vic Theatre, and that is now also the magical hallmark of the New Vic.

The Ages & Stages project seems a natural progression for the theatre’s outreach into the local community. Who better to tell of its past glories than those of us who have been audience members for, in some cases, over forty years? Invited to share our memories as part of a documentary, we have been meeting and getting to know each other since September 2011. The most daunting but ultimately most rewarding aspect of the workshops have been the improvisation sessions, challenging our ability to express our knowledge spontaneously without resorting to clichéd speech or gesture. Not easy. And not made any easier by the presence of a camera filming every moment – the surprise is that a relaxed and informal atmosphere makes possible a level of concentration that overcomes any concerns about appearing foolish and having blunders recorded.

Before Christmas we older, (mature?) theatre fanatics were joined by members of the Youth Theatre. Their arrival brought a new focus to the sessions, together with the promise of future magic. Their enthusiasm and openness was infectious, awakening memories of when I was young and unaware of the impending demands of adulthood. So perhaps it was just as well that some topics were avoided – fear of a painful death, sex, poverty – in our discussions and improvisations. Maybe an ‘Extreme Ages & Stages’ awaits exploration – the Theatre of Cruelty and the Absurd combined. For the moment, however, young and old approached the tasks of improvised performance with intelligence, sensitivity and wit such that we created a Theatre of Pleasure for an all too brief magical time in which Age was Play. 

John Shapcott - Ages and Stages Theatre Company 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Vive the Vic/New Vic: Home and Away, by Frances Evans

In the late 1960s, I was fully occupied in learning to live in Staffordshire, to fend for myself as a single person and to teach English to 11–18 year olds. Coriolanus was my first A Level Shakespeare, not the most appealing to the girls in my group. To the rescue came Alan David, actor from the Vic, part of Peter Cheeseman’s plan to build the relationship between theatre and school. The academic advantages were bountiful and my status was enhanced by my introduction of a ‘dishy’ male.

The late 1970s and 80s were dominated by money raising for the new theatre: meetings, covenants, raffles, Open Days, Family Nature Days, collecting at the Potteries Marathons, a Grand Auction, a New Vic Recipe Book: you name it, we did it. For me, the most important event was in October 1989 - I married T F Evans. We had a celebratory lunch in the New Vic restaurant with champagne, courtesy of a startled marketing department. Tom joined me as a dedicated stuffer, vol and audience member. 

Last year I went to visit a niece Jane, who lives in South West France. She took me to tea with an English couple who were trying to learn French later in life. Once upon a time (in fact in 1974) John, whose profession had been sound effects for films, had been at the Vic during the preparations for Fight For Shelton Bar. He was sent alone to the steelworks where he found the noise and the heat terrifying. Recently I tried to establish the date of the documentary. The garage, source of much theatre memorabilia, produced a 9 page booklet, Fight For Shelton Bar, but no date. I shook it impatiently and a Sentinel cutting fell out – Friday March 15th 1974. What the booklet did reveal was a page of Acknowledgements. Under ‘Design and Technical Staff’ appears the name John Pakenham (Design Assistant).

Frances Evans, Ages and Stages Theatre Company 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Vic Memories and Taking Part in Ages and Stages, by Peter Dutton

Vic Memories

My memories begin with the early days at the Municipal Hall in Newcastle; Stephen Joseph’s cogently argued case for a permanent home in the area for the company and the selection of Hartshill. Appointments at Hanley High School and Stoke Sixth Form College meant that I was involved with the development of the Vic’s central educational and community philosophies. I was also a trustee for nearly twenty years. 

From the outset Vic actors contributed to school drama lessons, visited productions and supported the work of teachers. A and AS Theatre Studies students followed Vic productions from early rehearsals to performance and the experience of watching professionals working and the close relationship between director, cast and the technicians was invaluable. Those who applied for admission to theatre schools had briefing sessions with Vic actors; two students later appeared at the Vic and others also enjoyed successful stage careers.

The Vic’s educational and community work was executed in practical and largely unpublished terms but it was effective, consistent and generated significant goodwill.

The Ages and Stages project

The composition of our group recalled Dryden’s description of Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims –“Here is God’s plenty”. Although there was a conspicuous absence of rogues, clerics and gushing theatricals, there was an interesting mixture of personalities, age bands and experience. The experience of Chris Martin and Steven Granville added to the impact of the sessions and the latter’s account of arriving in Stoke for an audition which was actually being held in London was a comic highlight, while the illustrated talks by Pat Blenkarn and James Earls- Davis provided a revealing insight into the vital contribution of the backstage teams to each production.

Participants clearly had a strong feeling of loyalty to the Vic for widely differing reasons, but a common factor seemed to be that it represents something substantial and meaningful in individual lives regardless of age and external circumstances. It is more than a place where one goes to watch shows – the setting and welcoming atmosphere have their own appeal.

Attitudes to ageing were positive, notably cliché-free, and the improvisations which were devised reflected this variety of outlook. The success of the venture owed much the decisive input of members of the Vic Youth Theatre, who were confident and optimistic, as well as being attentive listeners and making constructive contributions to group activities.

My treasured moment came when we were discussing a council leader’s declaration that provision for old age should start at fifty. I wondered how Peter Cheeseman would have reacted to the suggestion that the green grasses of retirement beckoned at that point. The adjectives “incredulous” and “volcanic” came to mind. 

Peter Dutton - Ages and Stages Theatre Company