In 2014 Entelechy Arts, in south London, partnered with Freedom Studios, in Bradford, to work with professional and non professional older performers to devise, perform and tour ‘Home Sweet Home’, a play about what it means to grow old in contemporary Britain. One year later the effect of the programme is still being felt…
Developing relationships across distance was at the heart of the Home Sweet Home touring programme. The partnership between Freedom Studios and Entelechy Arts, situated two hundred miles apart from each other brought together professional and non-professional teams of artists and emerging artists. The success of these long distance connections has been key to the project’s legacy, long after the material artefacts of the programme have been recycled.
Collaboration with older people was central to the project. Part of the political energy for the work was fuelled by a group of elders from Entelechy Arts in London who had been working as mentors with their peers living in residential care homes. They were concerned about the loss of agency experienced by residents who were being supported by a care system under financial pressures and constraints that afforded no time or space to recognise the individual stories and aspirations of a largely invisible and forgotten population.
These concerns energised people’s curiosity about the lives of their contemporaries in other parts of the country. The question: ‘What does it mean to grow old in contemporary Britain? ” sparked a dialogical process between the theatre production team (producers, writer, designer, director) and older creative stakeholders. It gave connection and agency across distance. There were north/ south visits between elders both real (via the train) and virtual (via Skype).
The two elements of ‘relationship’ and ‘distance’ have been central to the legacy of the programme. It is standard practice for arts professionals to plan, work and reflect with their colleagues from other parts of the country. People travel to form new working relationships, attend conferences and symposiums; to consciously and subconsciously contribute to the shaping of the wider cultural landscape. Rarely is this form of agency available to non-non professional participants.
Within the wider Home Sweet Home legacy many participant relationships have been maintained. For example two community chorus members from Bradford were invited to be keynote speakers at a national symposium in London that addressed new relationships between arts organisations and local government in supporting the needs of isolated older people. Connections forged between two of the touring venues (the Albany in south east London and ARC in Stockton on Tees) are provoking new work. Entelechy is leading a partnership comprising of both venues and contemporary circus company Upswing in a Gulbenkian ‘Sharing the Stage’ programme. There are plans for new virtual and real spoken word events curated by older artists involving participants from all three contributing cities.
At the end of the Home Sweet Home performance there was a beautiful theatrical moment that interwove the voices of elders from local community choirs. Some of these relationships have been sustained with the Bolder Voices (N.W. London) and the Stockton Silver Singers contributing to Entelechy’s 21st Century Tea Dance series.
The rethinking of performance times to suit older audiences has continued with many ‘main house’ performances at the Albany now having a show programmed to run more conveniently between 1pm and 3pm –ending just before the rush of school children on the public transport systems.
There are plans for the BOLD Festival, curated in a three cities to coincide with performances of Home Sweet Home, to be revived, building on the learning in establishing an arts and ageing festival across cities in England by imaginatively linking existing programming in a light touch way supplemented with a few scattered new commissions.
So in many and various ways the Home Sweet Home legacy continues. It seems to be the gift that keeps on giving.