Jan 2016 – April 2017.
The workshops with older people, which concentrated on the theme: “There’s More To Me!” were held throughout 2016 and culminated in the reading of the first draft of the play The Wisdom Club in 2017 at Theatre Royal Bury, Derby Playhouse and RADA London in April 2017. Danusia Iwaszko, Associate Artist (playwright) held 20 workshops at Age UK day centres and 10 at Theatre Royal to a different group, which became known as The Wisdom Club. The expressed purpose of the workshops was an exploration of what it is to be elderly today and the groups had a range of ages: 60 – 92 and mix of social classes. When first approaching the groups, the people went into reminiscences. When Danusia said she was interested in their thoughts about life now one man said: “Nobody ever asks us our opinions about ‘now’.” Thus the workshops emerged.
People at the day centres had varying literacy and reading abilities but the workshops was very ably helped by the staff at Age UK who would scribe and encourage. The interaction of the group developed over the weeks. People spoke more and with more confidence. The activities had to be many and various to keep the dynamic and interest of the group. A discussion, a reading of a poem someone had written, a reciting of a poem someone remembered, listening to some music from times gone by: e.g. Josef Locke. The debates ranged from Brexit to sex, from portrayal of the elderly in the media to dealing with bereavement and the loss of friends and family. At times it was very moving and at times very funny.
Generally the level of the groups’ self expression developed in leaps and bounds over the weeks and months. From the writing workshops emerged original poems and prose, which were shared at the end of each group of 5 workshops. A lot of the themes were about gratefulness and thanks for life and the small things in life. One of the writers who took part in the workshops at the Theatre started a play about dementia which went on to win The Anglian Voices Competition in the summer of 2017. These workshops also formed the research for Danusia to start the writing of a full length play: The Wisdom Club, which conveys how it is to be old in 2017. By the spring of 17 Danusia could read scenes from the play and discuss characters and the group fed back with their opinions and ideas. This was really informative for the re-writes of the play. All the participants expressed a huge sense if pride being part of the plays development. Other outcomes were:
– Connections between people and friendships made.
– A deeper understanding of the craft of writing.
– A sense of achievement either from their writing being shared or their opinions being valued.
– The theatre itself being seen as a true community venue, all feeing welcome and indeed apart of it. (Some people had never been before.)
– The writing of poems, plays and prose.- The beginnings of a professional play exploring old age today.
– A great deal of fun!Here is the feedback from some participants and staff. We asked for suggestions of anything they would have done differently but nothing was forth coming.
“The group has developed so much more than I had imagined when you first came to talk to me – I had envisaged a small select group of willing participants, the selection being of those who were able to vocalise their thoughts and needed this opportunity to be able to express themselves and revitalise their self-worth. Now we have most of the day members as part of the group, everyone having their say and being enabled by you and the staff here and your stimulating and inspiring leadership.” A letter to Fanny from Gillian Bolsey, Day Services Manager West, Age UK Suffolk.
“Over the weeks, it felt like a family group. I have really enjoyed it. Thank you. I enjoyed listening to the scenes from the play and it made us think about our lives. I’ve also enjoyed listening to the poems Dani read and it’s started me writing my own. Thank you.” Louise.
“It has been very enjoyable. Not only makes us think of things from the past but things in the present. It has been a wonderful group experience.” Violet (92).
“We’ve learnt about each other. Some of the people hadn’t really spoken very much before Dani’s workshops. I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s helped my confidence, talking in front of the group and realising that other people feel similarly to me. Thank you.” Sue.
“It’s been good fun. I look forward to it every week. I like Dani reading bits out of poems and books we brought in, especially the Monti Don book. Then I liked the discussion. I really enjoyed Ernie’s poems and Lulu’s” Jane.
“I really enjoyed the workshops this year. Thanks for the fun. I remembered poems I had learnt at school, who would believe they are still in your mind after 80 years! The play’s going to be brilliant, I hope I can make it. Stay in touch.” Ernie (89)
“We had a lot of laughs and sometimes it was also very moving. I don’t know why. Is it about hearing other people’s stories? Dani would listen and then ask us what we thought, everyone had a lot to say. Lovely. I know our care assistants looked forward to it every week too! Thank you. I wouldn’t have done anything differently, just more please!” Margaret.
“All our members look forward to Dani’s visits on Thursdays. The group has interacted so much better as a result of her enthusiastic input. The members have really taken ownership of the group and are proud of the play they have contributed to. We’d love to have her back again!” Claire. Senior Day Care Assistant. Age UK. Saxon House.
“An amazing experience to share with our members. It’s been and absolute pleasure to contribute each week and see them so engaged with the discussion and plans for the play. Also, each session has enabled them not only to reminisce but to express their feelings, and most importantly to laugh. They, we, have had a brilliant time and we all cannot wait to see the play.” Sue. Day Care Assistant. Age UK. Saxon House.
“I’ve always enjoyed watching and listening to all the stories of their lives they lead. All so different but so interesting. Seeing the enjoyment on their faces. Full of pride to be part of the play.” Sarah. Day Care Assistant. Saxon House.
“A wonderful experience which we have all enjoyed talking and listening to Dani and sharing all our stories.” Jenny Parkinson. Day Care Assistant.