Date: 11th Feb 2016
Interviewer: Susan Croft
Technician: Joseph Dunne
Observer: Juley Smith
Topics List: Susan Croft
Video timings – 2:46:29
Video One 01:30:15
Video Two 01:16:14
00:00:00 Family Background and school. Grew up in Hale, Cheshire, nr Manchester. Father a local solicitor, mother a housewife. Part of the Jewish community – among the first Jewish families to move to green and leafy South Manchester from traditional N Manchester community.
PS was a bit of an educational disaster. Went to a small private school and didn’t like it much. Failed 11plus, didn’t want to go away to school so went to local Wellington Road Secondary Modern. The only Jewish girl there. Parents’ friends fairly scandalised but she had a lovely time. Didn’t learn very much. Girls school for ages 11-15 (boys across the playing field) Expected to go into shop or housework or if bright, shorthand and typing. At age 15 PS transferred to local grammar and picked up a few O levels. Then sent to a crammer and picked up a few A levels then Royal College of Music as a singer – performers’ course. She’d had singing lessons since age 14.
Stigma attached to Sec Mod, especially in the Jewish community where education is highly prized. Affected how she saw things politically. Her brother went to public school and is much more conservative. In bringing up her own children she didn’t want them to go to schools with privilege esp. as they were from a relatively privileged family anyway, surrounded by books, music, are etc. Was very happy with the comprehensive movement and so upset to see it eroded. Remains true to the ideal of a comprehensive education
00:04:52 Studies and first theatre work. Went really too early – it’s such a disciplined life. Should have been more experienced. Arriving in London and living at a club for Young Musicians with an all-night bar. Parents had to pay a large bill for bloody marys! (1962) She didn’t have the theoretical background or the discipline. Decided to do a degree course in English Needed Latin (this was 1963/4) – she didn’t have language – a little French. But new universities were opening – went to UEA – wonderful and did lots of Drama too. Got a First. Fell in love with EA. Then went to U of Bristol to do Directing for Radio Film and Television. Not well-run that year – tutor was on unofficial sabbatical – they were babysat and she dropped out and went into teaching English in comprehensive school
SC: Was there much theatre in her background?
Her paternal grandmother had been a great reciter and involved in Annie Horniman’s troupe. Tried to do an MA in Sociology of Literature at Essex in – didn’t take to it and switched to drama – was always more in to practical aspect – putting on shows, organising festivals. Productions for student drama festivals e.g. documentary shows inc one about Black Muslims – she got very excited by it in 1968 – did lots of research and put on a piece that got into the last 2 in the NSDF. Good review from Harold Hobson. Embarrassed to say now that there were no black students involved. Whites wore white bib, and otherwise were playing black. About Elijah Mohammed and self-government for Black Americans. Panicky – rumour that Black Panthers were going to come and wreck the show. Created other shows a festival bringing Town and Gown together. Then got married and it all stopped.
00:11:05 The political / cultural moment.1968 a fantastically exciting moment. PS went to Israel – decided she absolutely didn’t want to live there, though excited by energy and dynamism of it. Working on a kibbutz and in banana fields – lots of students coming from Paris. Huge student movement in Essex – Bill Deedes came and gave a talk – students sabotaged his speech pretending to be apes. Labour politicians visited the Uni and students lay down and filled the entire quadrangle so they had to walk on the bodies of the students.
Bringing in alternative companies to the festival : Lindsay Kemp – mime, gay champion, outrageous – a show on the edge of pornography which had a name suggesting it was a children’s event advertised it for children – very embarrassing Nola Rae, poets like Michael Horowitz, Brian Patten; staged a croquet match because U of Essex [??] Converted her M.A. which she didn’t finish into an M Phil which she didn’t finish and a PhD ditto. She went back a lot to teach when Roger Howard was in charge and Drama had started (1975). Supervised by Kevin O’Malley who advised her ‘Give up the PhD they’re no use’ She was by then a TIE specialist
00:16:15 Early Married and Working Life. Marriage to Alex Schweitzer (AS). PS’s maiden name was Aubrey, anglicised from Auerbach around WW1 – felt there was history to her name, so happy to become Schweitzer.
His was an interesting family. AS’s father had been Jewish and came to Britain c July 1939 in disbelief at what was happening. His (non-Jewish) wife stayed in Berlin, pregnant with Alex who spent his first 6 years in Berlin and then came to London with one of his brothers and sisters and met his father for the first time and his other bro and sis who’d been here during the war.
He was a young architect when they met through a cousin. He went to Israel and worked on Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Married in 1969. Her parents saw him as a saint for marrying her though mother disappointed at not having a big Jewish wedding. Registry office – very happy occasion
Settled in Norwich. Had a little flat. As got a job with an architectural firm; PS teaching Liberal studies at the City College. AS got made redundant after a year and a half. PS teaching Wesker’s Roots etc to gas fitters, plumbers, electricians etc – she did a love poetry project and had the students show where they went for their courting. She was in the process of setting up a community theatre company linked to Theatre Royal and to do educational theatre. But had to move to London. PS was pregnant. They moved to a flat in Camberwell, up lots of stairs. Had Dora in 1971 – very restless baby. PS very inexperienced. The doctor advised PS get a job – she got a part-time teaching job 1971-2 – working in a big, fairly rough comp in Walworth.
The family then moved to Blackheath. Better air for kids. Teaching in new local comp – Thomas Tallis. Teaching Humanities, History, English, Drama. Came across TIE with GYPT. She was training to be qualified as a drama teacher at ILEA under Geoffrey Hodson and Maureen Price. Taught in local comps while kids were little while also researching TIE – especially Coventry. Writing about it for THES, TO. Second child in 1975. Became a Drama Advisory Teacher in Barking & Dagenham- educational drama was big – advisory teams in schools – she did a big programme about the history of their estates – LCC cottage estate. Interviewing early settlers on the estate – children involved in making the play – top 2 years of primary – understanding what it was like to build a new estate, building infrastructure, becoming community – very exciting.
00:28:52 Exploring Theatre-In-Education. Around 1976 auditioned for Coventry TIE – despite having 2 small kids. She was prepared to leave home for it she was so excited to do it. Rigorous day of collaboration, character evaluation, performance work. Got down to the last two with Helen Atkinson-Wood – who they appointed. Doesn’t know what would have done if she’d been appointed.
Had written an article for TQ on a play at Bolton Octagon TIE and was then commissioned to do a TIE Directory (1975, with Claire Chapman). Then ACGB commission came through Drama Inspectorate looking at London teams in context of national picture. PS was very interested in GYPT, Cockpit, the Curtain and did a very favourable evaluation. PS was paid to travel round the country. Had childcare help. Complex weeks – teaching – Lewisham, Kidbrooke, bits of reviewing, bits of travelling / writing.
Conclusions of report recommended encouraging publication, exchange, critique PS thought work extremely good, innovative, unique. Met NH who commissioned a series of 3 volumes : Infant, Junior, Secondary. Companies were v cooperative re: photos, scripts etc.
Established a form lasting at least a day bravely tackling lots of complex topics – empathise, widen horizons, creativity, use their imagination, lasting impact – Rare Earth, PowWow, Harlow New Town – very innovative shows. Privileged to see it.
SC asks about impact of National Curriculum and funding on it now.
Companies wanted to talk about the management structures, funding. PS wanted to talk about the work. Companies often though that spoke for itself. Poor relation to larger theatres who never came to see it. A key motive was increasing the profile of the work. There was always an issue about funding from day 1. Concept of actor-teacher. Relatively short period where there was money and scope within the National Curriculum. At recent 50th anniversary event it was clear how hard it was to get accepted in schools, even where there was no charge for the work. Intrigued to find TIE alive and well in Canada. Here it seems to have got closer and closer to children’s theatre – increasingly hard to do pure TIE.
SC Process before and after.
Highly developed relationships with teachers before and after.
Some of the most exciting projects were Rare Earth. Worlds created in classrooms with minimum resources. Ifan’s Valley for infants, about a reservoir for Coventry. Kids taken out to the woods by man from the water board who talks and walked around with them in the woods, warns them about the shepherd who wants to stop the reservoir the people of Coventry need and then leaves them. They then meet the shepherd in his hut, surrounded by real sheep who puts another point of view about his connection to the land – dealt with adult conflict – water, conservation, community – crossed immense subject areas, decision-making. Challenged kids to think. Coventry company were streets ahead. Pow Wow also very exciting – about Red Indians.
SC asks about work around housing, landlords.
The Big Deal – very important show – in one of the play collections.
00:44:37 Politics of TIE. SC asks about reputation of TIE companies for political radicalism. Recommends what became SCYPT. What was PS’s experience? Unhappy experience. Workers’ Revolutionary Party a big priority for many TIE teachers, but very divisive. Victims of TIE – people who thought differently within a team they would feel victimised and not free to speak. People would corner her and tell her of this. Standing Conference of Young People’s Theatre (SCYPT)
SCYPT journal – PS edited first 4 or 5 issues with Stuart Bennett. Conferences very valuable but there was bullying over politics. People were hurt and silenced. Doesn’t like remembering it. Teams producing the best work were often the most politically committed but hard to deal with in daily life.
SC: Were some issues not on the agenda? In certain political companies in alternative theatre women formed separate companies because feminism was not on the agenda.
PS: Not sure of that but it was a male-dominated scene – some men- good speakers and fierce e.g Geoff Gilham, Dave Pammenter and others. PS remembers not enjoying it anymore. It became rather theoretical. SCYPT Journal was taken over. She did the earlier, A4 format ones.
SC: Was there personal criticism of her around class?
PS: No. She may have been called with some anger a social democrat. She was writing a script – it was difficult as an outsider. Some ideas she circulated and were rejected and were then developed by companies – education, race – 3 shows that became big hits. No acknowledgement of her scenarios. Felt a bit bitter.
SC: Was this because collective politics held everything in common?
PS: More likely unconscious copying
SC: Did she still want to be part of a collective?
Got a job as workshop leader at Oval House for kids for local estate – Alphie Pritchard Also educational drama teaching in comps. ILEA were phasing out part-timers.
Around this time she made a TIE show about Burston School strike – 2 teachers fired from a local village school – long-running strike and strike school built on village green which is still there. PS saw documentary in Yesterday’s Witness series by Steven Pete, based on testimony. She involved Lin Coghlan (LC), Annette Cashmore (AC),– ex-Bruford people. Took it to Norfolk and Suffolk and local primary schools participated. Whole day show. Supported by Oral History Society via Essex Uni. Realised again how much she liked directing. This subject matter was one of those taken by others without acknowledgement but her show was first.
00:54:50 Beginnings of Reminiscence and inter-generational Work. Business of interviewing older people for their memories was v interesting. She needed a job. Started working for a radical voluntary sector organisation in Woolwich – Pensioners Link – educational work building understanding between old and young: Taskforce – working with pensioners. Reminiscence just beginning to be used – watched a group in action. Led by someone with experience of radical politics of ageing, residential care, Help the Aged education dept. also involved. This is 1982-3 – use of reminiscence beginning to be used rather than reality orientation – previously seen as self-indulgent. Seen as healthy, taking stock – influence of an American [Robert Butler]. Greenwich Taskforce prioritised reminiscence – important formative year for her in re: Age Exchange (AE). Pensioners’ rights becoming an issue – Jack Jones retired from TGWU and began to radicalise movement Pensioners’ Charter. PS had connections with Farmers’ Union (supported Burston project) and TGWU.
Exploring Living Memory, a London-wide oral history movement. was active then, 1980s: small community groups in different boroughs – little booklets, festivals, GLC-backed. Making small theatre pieces for pensioners – 1982 – The Life and Times of Mary Spriggs (LC, AC, Ian Church, Dan Gregory) based on pensioners’ party activism – comedy fantasy where they take over the country. Included history of the pensioner. Roots of her later reminiscence work in this – education, pensioners’ rights, left-wing politics. Ad hoc groups at this point. Not sure how the Bruford connection came about.
In parallel she was working with children in schools bring pensioners into the classroom – sharing memories. Kids would then work on this and then share it back with the pensioners. Also inter-generational shows e.g. at Kidbrooke School – 6th form Drama girls did a show based on older people about when they were 16 – all got As at A level. It was her job to generate work like this and encourage inter-generational work.
Blackheath Bluecoats school did a big musical based on old people’s memories.
01:06:49 There is 28 minutes of the interview missing at this point from the video, however the material can be heard on the audio version.
[Missing material includes information on: The Fifty Years Ago Show. SC We’re getting to the point where Age Exchnage becomes an entity – where did it begin to crystallise?
PS: Had meetings with people who might back it Education Dept of Age UK and especially the GLC. Met Tony Banks and Ken Livingstone (KL). KL presented statistics –of how little they were spending on older people and culture. Backed the idea for a trial 6 months to do a project based on interviews with older people and toured back to them. TB Head of Cultural Services within the GLC. Also built good links with Help the Aged, TGWU, TUC, LB Greenwich. Could see the possibility of company but had to have a pilot project. Looked for a theme. It was 1983 and in 1933 there had also been 3m unemployed. Theme was employment and unemployment. Interviewed people in sheltered housing, recruited 5 actors – Equity, professional who came in on the interviews. Always paid Equity rates. Included Diane Hancock, John Patrick Deary, Tom Austin, Anna Philpott (later gay activist and performer), Gary Willmore older local actor and pianist. Improvised the show. PS hideously inexperienced as director and they could tell – not comfortable. Everyone v opinionated and had different ideas. Play with lots of music. Looking at 1933 and work, unemployment. Also the time when Mosley’s blackshirts were active in the East End where it was set. Based entirely on the recordings. Actors transcribed by hand what they wanted to include Lots of stories. Show only on for 12 weeks. Interviewed maybe 50 people and had lots of stories and people were very old. Interviews in groups of 4 or 5 in sheltered housing in LB Greenwich. Previous year had set up an Adult Ed group to do reminiscence and they supported the project Had £20 battery-operated unsophisticated Phillips cassette machines – 90% of tapes have survived. Then went to see ED Berman at Inter-Action for advice on making a book – was advised by him or his staff it was too difficult. Gave her the determination to do it. Told it would take 6 months. They had 3 weeks. Her husband learnt photography and copied the photos they’d been given, converted the loo into a darkroom. A little old lady typed up the stories. Did it anonymously as the interviewees preferred. All lay-out done by hand with Stanley knives, working all night, several nights with friends helping, getting to printers, getting proofs, then getting it back to printers to be out on first night.
When we took the show on road to community centres, churches, sheltered houses, clubs etc, – one-day stands. Had to have a piano – there was lots of music. People would say ‘How did you know my story?’ People were deeply emotional.
SC: Was there a script?
Lots of negotiations. 2 cast members had a steaming affair and then fell out. Quite powerful story about a family – meetings with Blackshirt, factory owners etc. Went back to the people we’d interviewed and asked for feedback. People got very emotionally involved and it could be transformative.
Policy decisions – books and workshops and the next shows. Book was massively subsidised so it cost 50p or £1. The beginning of people beginning to add reminiscence to their activities for pensioners – PS asked to do workshops for staff. Decision from then on that every show would have a book – the stories would never be found again. People were 80 and 90.
First show coincided with Greenwich Festival – then a community festival. Got funded by GLC for a further 6 months. More shows:
Show for the Co-op women’s guild – Jessica Higgs was in it – commissioned by the Co-op Women’s Guild to celebrate the centenary for a huge rally in Westminster Central Hall. Started 1883. Membership was very elderly. Had been very important on issues around human rights, Basque children in Britain, women’s rights, birth control, many issues – highly political. Collaborated with Chris Salt who introduced PS to verbatim theatre. She showed PS a recording of A Rose Between Two Thorns about the period between the two world wars, made by David Thacker at Lancaster – 3 women. This time they used only verbatim testimony, before had improvised from the material.
Had seen Peter Cheeseman’s work at Stoke and in fact maybe 2 years later the main writer for AE became Joyce Holliday, his wife who had done lots of the work at Stoke, much of the writing and was not properly acknowledged. Wrote 3 of their most successful shows: Can We Afford the Doctor?, What Did You Do in the War, Mum? and Just Like the Country, about inter-war housing estates.
SC mentions that Kate Crutchley talks about her in re: Anywhere to Anywhere etc
JH v. much a mentor for PS. JH in despair about the working process of PS trying to do the book at night and then direct the show the next day. PS paid the kids £30 each to learn to touch-type – the ‘best money I ever spent’.
Rehearsing at home. Kids involvement in work, selling books, helping in reminiscence centre. Daughter became a theatre designer and son became a composer.
Working Process. SC asks about issue of being a woman director when there weren’t many. PS says it was more the lack of training. Probably made every mistake in the book. As a woman director needed to be doubly strong. Working with generally actors who had worked in very good companies. Lots to learn: publicity, tour schedules, Equity contracts – the need for breaks!
SC: ask what costs the grant paid?
Stage manager, an administrator, after the first few shows a theatre designer and music director. The latter very important – especially with audiences with various degrees of understanding, concentration, even dementia – song was a very important element. People could remember words, tunes, rhythms even when they could barely speak any more. Every actor had to be an instrumentalist and be able to hold a harmony line – music a key element. Tour manager. Lighting, costumes.
Co-op gave them a disused furniture van with windows cut in the aluminium side – props went in the back and fell about with the actors – lethally dangerous [23.50 – c25.10 Vanecdote] PS drove at first. Later the SM
Touring. Initially only London. Later all over – Newcastle, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and N Ireland with the Irish show, all over Europe – because no-one else was doing this work – Germany, France, Belgium, Norway, Denmark. Performing in communal spaces – hospitals and care homes a bit, specific shows – synagogues, Catholic halls, Caribbean lunch clubs, Asian venues, on it went – we were inventing audiences because every show had a different theme and appealed to different people so we had to take them to the venues where they would have ripples. Anomalies – like playing a Christmas show to a Jewish audience. Mostly a token fee from the venue. Grant covered most of the work. Most shows had 4 funders. Never Arts Council except to fund writers 3 or 4 times. Local authority arts funding, bits from the Dept of Health, trade unions, money from European Commission.]
Video recording resumes
01:06:53 Early shows touring first Greenwich then London. Then nationally.
SC: Why would ACGB not fund you. Because they did not value that audience? They said because the work was not artistically good enough – frankly that was rubbish. Production values and standards were very high. Reviewed in community newspapers – Carole Woddis, Lyn Gardner, – Time Out. Heather Neil in THES. Performances were free to older people – amazing and necessary. Wouldn’t be any more. There was always a session half as long again as the show asking about memories evoked – share them with audiences or the group. AE don’t do that work any more
01:09:40 Premises. Rehearsing first in Charlton House, Jacobean building beautiful community centre but not convenient as they had to stop for other events. Then rented a very cold hall in Blackheath village behind a sleazy card shop, then gradually took over offices above. Previously admin had been done from attic room at home. Long slow business acquiring it. Building had been occupied by Sandie Shaw as a dress shop – Jane and I [?] in late 1970s – people remember it around here. Previously a photographic studio where all the local old people had been photographed as children. Gradually they took over more space, then the lease when the card shop went and in 1986 created a Reminiscence Centre. Nobody knew what that was. PS initially envisaged it as a place with tape recorders for recording memories.
01:13:13 Other Early Shows My First Job and A Place to Stay. Going back to discuss All Our Christmases, later revived – they a Xmas show every year after that – that one revived or a new one. Then the first multicultural show: A Place to Stay. Before that My First Job – based on memories of people leaving school at 14 – how they got the first job, what they did with the money. Specially written music – very popular. Nearly had a permanent company but PS thought they must reflect a more multicultural London – 2 Asians, a Caribbean and a Greek Cypriot, a Canadian MD. They and others went out and interviewed people from their background and others about why they came, what they expected, what they found, why they were still here. Fascinating material. Some in mother-tongues. AE had to hire transcribers. Each actor took responsibility for the scenes about their culture. Powerful and interesting process. Cooked food for each other in the different ethnic styles – lovely. Rehearsed and ate. Beautiful Simple set – Italian designer. Jo Richelieu – MD made a very innovative score using ethnic instruments and harmonium. A bit before its time. Took the show around – hard to place- a bit before its time. An Indian venue would love the Indian bits but be a bit foxed by the Greek Cypriot or Caribbean bits and vice versa. But attracted a lot of attention and then book A Place to Stay was a bit of a first – pensioners’ experiences in so many languages – nightmare to put together – finding transcribers, in so many languages and in time. People said it wasn’t home but it was a place to stay, hence the title. Beautiful music, using words from the testimony. Dhirendra used a lot of Indian music, sang and played, and Georgia Clarke sang a Greek Cypriot song as an old woman. Each became the cast in the others’ scenes. Took it to Frankfurt – very well-received.
01:18:00 What Did You Do in the War, Mum? From Stepney Green to Golder’s Green and Can We Afford the Doctor?,
Then a Jewish show: From Stepney Green to Golder’s Green Went to Nancy theatre festival and all over UK. About memories of the Jewish East End and then moving out. PS was not ready to do a piece about the Holocaust and thought it would not necessarily be appropriate – people not ready to speak. At fifty year anniversary more happened. PS thought it highly risky and dangerous to immerse people in that world. In 1986 they made the Jewish show while opening the Reminiscence Centre.
Back track to 1985 and What Did You Do in the War, Mum? – the first show to be fully funded by GLC and Nuffield Foundation – their Director Pat Thomas, very enlightened – she loved what we did. We could hire JH as writer and two researchers conducted interviews far and wide with women who’d worked in the Services, in the countryside and on the Home Front. Also a book Fascinating to take it to Germany and share it with older Germans where it became a trigger for their memories. Performed in English. Circulated a summary in advance. Discussions were translating. Two shows fully funded. That and Can We Afford the Doctor?, also GLC and Nuffield-funded and filmed by Channel 4 – one and half hour documentary by television history workshop, specialising in oral history – filmed while doing interviews, creating the show, setting up Centre, making the book. Company policy from the start was that old people came into rehearsals and commented. PS v uncomfortable being watched at the time but now thinks it was great that it was filmed at the length – shows the entire process of making the show and taking it on the road. V political piece, staged as Thatcher was closing hospitals. Women who had fundraised to set up hospitals then were seeing them close. Performed at Labour rallies, European events – for Barbara Castle and Neil Kinnock. One actor was a card-carrying Conservative, which was tricky!
01:24:05 Reminiscence Centre. GLC were giving annual grants, but abolished in 1986. Spoke about Reminiscence Centre on radio and was told about an old corner ‘oil shop’ in Hackney closing down – loads of advertising material, never unpacked, shop fittings. Gave them to PS for the Centre. They redefined what an RC was – drawers filled with items from the past. People came to reminisce, train in reminiscence work. There was a café, places to sit, exhibition space. Dept of Health, local trusts, helped pay for fitting it out. Endless applications for every book/ exhibition. Fundraisers generally a waste of time – you’d have to tell them everything and they’d get it it not quite right. PS had to spend lots of time fundraising – industry, unions, trusts, council – big job every time. 3 or 4 weeks rehearsal.
Had a Board – mainly well-wishers. When turnover became bigger it got tricky. PS found it hard being answerable – always a bit anarchic. Later local authorities demanded they had industry people etc. on the Board, focused on the money. Feels she should have handled in differently and picked the Boards better. Because she didn’t life became uncomfortable.
Video One ends 01:30:15
00:00:00 Reminiscence Centre continued. On the high street, near a bus stop and train station. New things could start to happen. First exhibition was of photos taken in the building. Found glass plates. People brought in pictures of themselves as children. Woman opened the exhibition who had worked in the basement developing the pictures, plus the women from the Hackney shop. Glenda Jackson was AE Patron. Opened it with the local mayors. A big event. After that they were open 6 days a week. Had volunteers and two part-time Centre Development Workers who could open to schools, arrange inter-generational work, performances. Eventually they added a building at the rear with a theatre and rehearsal spaces from 1995. At peak AE had 12 full-time workers – big outfit and turnover. After GLC period of anxiety. LRB funding and LBGS. From 2 to 4 professional performances a year, each with a book and up to 12 weeks tour. At one point 2 companies on the road in 2 vans. A big thing to manage but it worked. Plus the Centre and reminiscence training courses for people across the country and overseas. A wider spread of venues including overseas. PS set up European Reminiscence Network in 1993 – lots of touring and conferences including hosting them in Blackheath.
00:04:46 Growth of Reminiscence as field. Growing concern about dementia and value of reminiscence across many organisations inc museums, libraries, community centres. Also due changing demographic. AE in the right place at the right time.PS increasingly involved in dementia care from 1995. Conference on Creative Reminiscence and Dementia Care plus a major European project with 12 partner countries – ran 2 or 3 years, conferences, publication. AE continues in parallel.
00:06:45 Many Happy Retirements. Many Happy Retirements AE’s longest-running show – 20 years from 1986 – 2 hander – 2 older actors. Only one that made money. Began with an Adult Ed class talking / writing about experience of retirement. PS brought in a writer and herself wrote sketches based on the group’s work. Employed on pre-retirement courses to fill gap as people running them didn’t know about psychological adaptation to retirement. Used Boal-style forum theatre to get participation of groups. Discussion of Dorothy Heathcote and Augusto Boal. PS worked with Boal in late 80s/90s. PS went to Brazil for big ’93 festival and Paris to Theatre of the Oppressed Centre. Influenced by concept of spectactor – fitted well with AE work of animating people and getting them involved in their own lives. Boal worked with the old people at the Reminiscence Centre with an older people’s theatre PS had set up. After 20 years she re-cast new actors and the actors from Many Happy Retirements Pamela Lyne and Godfrey Jackman went into in a show about dementia (GJ had worked with Paine’s Plough and Pentabus) Issues of how you deal with fact of all your friends still being at work, your wife retired years earlier – how you fit in etc etc – identity, self, community
00:13:00 Later shows. The Times of Our Lives: Memories of the Twenties and Thirties, written by Pauline Devaney who was involved in retirement show and researched on Just Like the Country. About leisure and love, young lives, romance – stimulated lots of conversation when toured.
On the River – important show – 100th anniversary of the dockers’ tanner strike 1989. Backed by unions esp. Jack Jones, Ron Todd of TGWU. Thames as working river. Much-revived show. Lightermen, stevedores etc contributed memories – also toured to dockers’ clubs, men’s groups – much beer was drunk. Tapes very funny. Dockers in rehearsal advised them on movements etc. Great characters. Worked with Waterman’s Hall and discovered the sub-culture of the river.
Remedies and Recipes: Caribbean Reflections on Health and Diet – 1987 small book and one-man show. Working with Asian community – Roots, first bilingual show – English and Punjabi 1992.Discussion of dates from books and annual reports. Remedies and Recipes big food-based launch event.
Routes -Vincent Ibrahim Neelam Bakshi, Sevva Dhalivaal, [Rosaline Dean, Kaleem Janjua, Robina Mir]
Travelled all over esp. Europe, playing to ethnic minority audiences – Turkish, Arabic- speaking – one sheet written description. Piece with movement and song, stylised reality. Very valued by audiences.
Goodnight Children Everywhere: Memories of Evacuation – big project, aimed at schoolchildren – ideal for inter-generational work. Excellent interview material. Broke new ground. Book and TIE show – one of 3 at AE on schooldays, wartime evacuation and hop-picking. Kids came for the whole day, had the experience of being evacuated and then worked with real life evacuees on scenes, lots Professional actors played teachers, parents, billet parents. Had a complete 3D environment at Reminiscence Centre where shows took place inside. Lisa Wilson designed lots of the shows plus new exhibitions every 4 months, created by her or other theatre designers. PS’s daughter cut her design teeth there and met her partner Steve Wilson, brother of LW. Goodnight Children Everywhere took place in 1930s schoolroom. Hopfield for hop-picking show, pub, hops to the ceiling – space could be occupied and worked in. People donated stuff, told stories, took part in the show with children and professional actors. After that PS started older people’s theatre.
00.25:45 Other Shows and Residencies. When We Were Young: Memories of Growing Up in South Somerset – one of several residencies including Wales, maybe East Anglia. PS toying with setting up ‘franchise’ reminiscence centres elsewhere. Lots of discussion but realised she’d end up spending her whole time looking at buildings. Decided instead to be a centre of excellence, advice and training etc. Lots of invitations as reminiscence took off. Reminiscence Project – sending out trained workers doing series of therapeutic sessions in care homes across the country, so staff could see how it was done. When We Were Young was part of a festival – old people’s home made a recipe book, schools’ groups talked to older people and made plays, people with mental illness, rural primary schools inc. one working with an old lady from the village, made a show and book of her reminiscences, presented it her.
Across the Irish Sea. Important show. Domestic, hotel, hospital work. PS brought up by Irish maids – many in Jewish households in Manchester – very close to Kitty their maid. PS gives memories of their relationship. Collecting memories of Irish older people – Catholic clubs, played all over England, Ireland, N Ireland. Irish cast.
Just Like the Country about large outer London LCC cottage estates linked to work advisory drama teaching Barking and Dagenham – housing a key issue with council housing being sold off in 1980s so important to address the issue – ‘ an acre and a cow’ ‘a land fit for heroes’ 1919-39. Interviews with people who grew up there, dramatized the move, lack of infrastructure, leaving family. Performed on the estates. Performed at RIBA. Whole book is online – out-of-print.
Living Through the Blitz: Londoners Remember – inter-generational project – the first one when children and old people appeared together. Before that children would dramatise stories told by old people’s stories. Won a big award from Age Concern. Youth theatre had started in 1986 initially in back hall.
00:36:30 Older People’s Theatre. PS invited 2 German directors who had a wonderful older people’s theatre, close friends by now of PS, to come to London and kick off a company (Dieter Scholz and Ingrid Bersau). Old people were not keen – wanted to make sandwiches and friends, not act though they’d done some in Living Through the Blitz after many young people dropped out. Persuaded them gradually and DS and IB charmed them and got them involved. The group worked together for 12 years and did 12 shows and became a company: ‘The Good Companions’, from JB Priestley – group eventually became quite ‘luvvie’! Memories got better and better. One would tell a story, others would act it out. PS would script it and they’d rehearse and tour it – not so widely as professional group. Took the group abroad – most had no passports till then. Became very good performers, a role model for old people in the audience to make their own theatre. New groups were set up in response. Set up an African – Nigerian elders’ theatre company and a Chinese elders’ company –places they played or had heard about it – PS did work with them or trained someone to do so. Invited Peggy Pettit an African-American woman from ‘Elders Share the Arts’ in the US to work with PS on projects, also with Caribbean elders. Work with older people making theatre from their lives one of the happiest things PS did.
Winter Warmers – professional show about keeping warm in winter. Footprints in the Sand – acted by children and old people – about seaside holidays. Scripts of these are all in the archive.
Dear Mum, a one-man show by Andy Andrews about evacuation. Often research material was used for more than one show e.g. Southwark at War. AE employed by Southwark or Lewisham to create books.
Streetwise, Fairground – youth theatre shows – various youth leaders.
Dementia work continues alongside this. 12 country project continues 19 years later. Impact of dementia on families and carers – loneliness, depression. People would come as couples for sessions over 12 weeks and explore lives together through the arts – dance, song, improvisation – revisit their whole lives together. PS trained people to work with her – have run the project 100s of times and still do.
Made such friendships, became such close friends – very open about their lives. Talk of divorce, bereavement e.g. impact of divorce then. Identification if the audience with their honesty – very moving. Different relationship from seeing professional actors play their younger selves.
00:52:11 Dementia work. PS has no medical or psychology background but huge interest in effect of evoking memories on sense of identity, self-worth. Became more and more clear that evoking memories improved people’s functioning in the present – revolutionary. Counteracting image of downhill trajectory, tragic event in their lives – instead how to live well, emphasis on what they can do, rather than the abilities they’ve lost, starting with the notion that early memories become clearer‘ make success happen for people who are habituated to failure’. Comradeship in the group. Older volunteers to create sense of party, rather than clinic. Project funded by Medical Research Council, researched by universities – £2M – went to universities. Great hopes – some crashed because methodology was inappropriate. 2 groups – control group and people participating, interviewed before, at the end, after 12 weeks, after 6 months.
Questions that research group interviewers asked of dementia sufferers and carers: Are you anxious? All of the time, most of the time, some of the time, never. Are you depressed? Etc Lots of questions with nebulous, blunt answers. Didn’t ask how they felt about the project. Talks about findings of the research which she feel totally misrepresented the work and results but made her question the work she was/had been doing. The findings scuppered future plans for the project. Turning point for the project – should she continue with dementia reminiscence work or not. Made decision to carry on because she knew it worked. Set up a new project with funding from European Commission which ran for 4 years and now has its own website called Rememberingtogether.EU. Currently working with Westminster Arts and Camden Carer who bring families to the venue to participate. Helps and strengthens dementia sufferers and their carers. Gives examples.
Leaving Age Exchange. Left on her 60th birthday. Had enough. 30 productions, 20 community shows, lots of youth theatre shows, loads of projects, led exhibitions, opened the centre. A wonderful life. Lucky to be able to do what she wanted, working with older people and make theatre. Internal dealings at Age Exchange became difficult and she didn’t feel comfortable about it. She had other contacts throughout the world and thought the best thing was to make a new start. First thing she did was write two books – Reminiscence Theatre and Remembering Yesterday, Caring Today. Worked with Clare Summerskill on first book through interviews. Co-wrote 2nd with Evelyn Bruce. Did a lot of small-scale ethnic minority projects with little bits of funding. Speaks about the work at Age Exchange after she left. The Centre now houses the local library. How she gathered together her archive. University of Greenwich offered it a home and helped her develop it as a living programme. Has had European money to help to develop it as an archive and website. Students use it as active living source and are developing new work out of it. Doing some teaching there.
Video Two ends 01:16:14