Tuesday, July 2, 2019


It has taken me a couple of weeks to get my reflections together on this.  But to start,  big thanks to everyone  who gave of their time for this exercise,  to Trinity Centre for providing the space and Debs Weinreb for taking photographs.

Rather than copy and paste my session plan I’ll summarise the core components and indicate the potential alternatives I’d try in the future.

First up, and after all-round  introductions, and a summary of my aims, I gave out post-it notes and pens.  I cited the quote: “When I shut my eyes I can be any age I want” and asked participants to do the same.   Then to jot down that age.  I collected these in an envelope.  They then did the same with things they really loved and things that made them angry.  I put these aside.  Regrettably no time left at the end of the session to take these out and discuss them.

I then introduced the group to recent perceptions on ageing: the notion of “Age Queer” and “Post-Age” (principally taken from Ashton Applewhite’s “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto against Ageism”. 

(Alternative 1: use these three “data sets” in the main drama situation.  Alternative 2: More discussion!)

I then set up a “Mapping a Life course” exercise, splitting people off into pairs. They were to chose an imaginary person and, using the surfaces and spaces in the hall, to take it in turns to describe key places, events and life course transitions in their chosen  persons’s life.  This took up too much time – as it did the previous evening when I’d trialled this with South West Players Company.  Getting the group back together I asked for brief summaries from everyone.

(Alternatives:  Put a 15 minute time limit on this or 5+ minutes for each person.  Ask for volunteer demonstration.  Swap partners and ‘hot seat’ each other.  Then ask the whole group to  ‘hot seat’ volunteer individuals).

I then put a number of random artefacts in the middle of the circle of our circle  and asked participants  to chose one that had an automatic appeal.  Some eloquent and deeply felt responses but participants reverted back to their real selves.

(Alternative: the artefact needs to be introduced before mapping the life course exercise, bolted on to the character they have created and woven into their narrative).

I then introduced the scenario which was to be the core of the workshop.  An imagined situation in which half the  participants, in character, would volunteer to take part in a clinical drugs trial for which the financial reward was remarkably generous.  They each had to affirm why they needed the money.

The remainder of the participants would be the personnel of  an international pharmaceutical company, meeting with and interviewing each participant to find the right volunteers.  The prospect of a week’s stay in a luxury health spa for the duration of the trial was added as a further inducement. This team were acquainted with the purpose of the potential drug: to cut off long-term memory but to afford a few weeks short-term memory with the day-to-day stability it might offer in later life. 

I gave the potential volunteers different attitudes to their own age to adopt, these  including “Age Queer” and “Post Age”.

(Alternative: Totally wrong stage of the workshop to introduce these.  Should have been established and shared amongst participants during the initial discussion.)

Inevitably this scenario over ran!  Much integrity from most of the participants in terms of sustaining their characters throughout.  When we had literally run out of time the potential volunteers were informed about the nature of the drug to be trialled.  More than frustrating as participants responded vociferously just as we had to vacate the hall.


To refine and develop this workshop and trial it with drama / theatre students.  One option is for a keen student to facilitate given adequate briefing.  Plans to approach the university drama / theatre departments, interns at Bristol’s theatres, local colleges and drama groups.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019



“I am not who you think I am.”

A free workshop taking a life course approach to ageing, identity, diversity and discrimination.

Thursday, June 13th 10.30 - 12.30

In the Main Hall (ground floor) of the Trinity Centre, Trinity Road, Bristol BS2 ONW.  

To book a place / find out more email: jecross19@yahoo.co.uk

This is an everyone welcome, all-ages inclusive, practical session for theatre professionals and anyone with an interest in the performing arts as a vehicle for social change. 

This is part of an emergent initiative: New Wave Ageing – Cultural Diversity and the Performing Arts:   a response to recent, research evidence of the extent of ageism in UK society, and the need to acknowledge the complex diversity of later life.

Dr. Joanna Cross

Saturday, May 25, 2019


Summer 2018 I was lucky to be involved with the Bristol Old Vic Young Company’s production of “Make More Noise”, this marking the centenary of some women being granted the vote in the UK.  It explored what advances women have made and, in no uncertain terms, called out  how much needs to be done to achieve true equality.  Hence the title taken from one of Emmeline Pankhurst’s speeches.   In fact making more noise is what many of us older men and women are doing on a range of issues.

That the “MeToo” Movement was well under way by then lent fuel to the energy and vision the Young Company girls brought to this piece, under the direction of the amazing Lisa Gregan, ably assisted by Maisie Newman.    There were only four of us women involved of whom I was the oldest but we were readily absorbed into the collective endeavor. A great leaning experience for me.  

A herniated disc cut short my involvement  just before the show opened.  Very depressing but timely  in that scans revealed a lot of wear and tear problems with my spine. 

During rehearsals we all wrote pieces that connected with women we admired, or were close to, known and unknown and from all corners of the world.  Madonna was one such woman cited by the girls.   Her strong speech on ageism chimed with my reflections at the time on later life. https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/madonna-on-ageing-and-motherhood

Here’s some of what I wrote:-

Age Part One

I am 66 years old.

I self-identify as a woman. 

I am on my home from work and I’m feeling good.

And I think, I think I look good.

 I’m wearing my vintage St. Laurent  jacket and Russell and Bromley boots.

But I confess they’re second hand.  I’m not that flush.

And I’ve just had my highlights done.

In my left hand I have a Diamond Card - but don’t be fooled.

It’s an  Old Age Pensioners’ Bus Pass. I’ll demonstrate how it works.

 Watch carefully the interaction between the card and the mottled, wrinkled right hand. One reinforces the other. If you’re not careful society can get you just where it suits.

A woman – my age? – gets up to offer me her seat.

Helmut Newton's icon shot of Yves Saint Laurent's /le smoking'

We all age.

 But to be  “old” is to have your sense of self stripped away.  

Your identity,

Your professional self. 

Your femininity,

Your sexuality.

I am 66

Deal with it.

 Age Part Two

No “Me Too” for you!

Not so, my friend Marlene would say.

After being harassed on holiday in Tenerife by hungry, young men

who took her and her girlfriends for ageing sex tourists.

She’s her own woman, is Marlene.

 Out there tonight as it goes.

Wearing her black corset underneath a man’s suit she had made

 By a Soho tailor sometime in the 70’s.

She’s slicked back her hair,

 and with a can of Stella in one hand and her phone in the other,

 she’s all set for her granddaughter Katy’s Hen Night.

 All the girls, all the women making more noise, having a blast,

For one night ruling the world even if its only Bristol Harbourside.  

And in quiet moments,

 in the Ladies,

 they’ll  tell how life once was, is and how it should be .

And nobody, but nobody, will tell Marlene how to age better than she’s doing already.

Finally, a big thanks to all of my peers who continue to take part in Extinction Rebellion protests.   Particularly our old family friend Oliver, also in his 60’s,  who stripped off in the Houses of Parliament a couple of months ago to make clear to our government how much they need to do to protect our planet. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019


First up “Us” at Bristol Old Vic’s  Weston Studio earlier in April, featuring us Adult Company in a piece of theatre which tapped into a presentation of our fundamental sense of self as opposed to the adoption of a role.  A valuable exercise in performativity, in that we riffed on our individual and collective identities in the creation of theatre.

But I mention “Us” for two, practical reasons.  Firstly because this group, whatever its composition, from course to course, has always been  all-ages inclusive as evidenced in the image of us with our amazing director Adam Peck (in the middle with the beard).   But also because its good to have a picture in a post and illustrating  performances I’m going to reference below  by copying from websites, has not been easy.

Moving across town  to the Trinity Centre.   Everything I’ve seen at this venue (admittedly as a volunteer steward) has been powerful,  flagging up uncomfortable aspects of society, social injustices and prejudices ignored by policy makers. https://www.3ca.org.uk/activities/ignite  Scottee’s “Fat Blokes Show”, Jackie Hagan’s “This is not a Safe Space”, Rachael Young’s “Nightclubbing” and Darren Pritchard’s “Rent Party”  all part of Trinity’s Ignite seasons,  have made a lasting impression on me. Scottee so much so that I plan to sign up for his Notepad Warrior course. And certainly dig deep and encourage my friends to do so for future performances.

Likewise the “Full Bloom” festival last weekend.  I went on the Saturday, took part in a panel discussion, then was totally in awe of   Bristol-based Gerry’s Attic Dance Company and Cardiff’s Striking Attitudes.https://www.3ca.org.uk/whats-on/2019/full-bloom-festival-saturday This festival showcases  the contribution  older men and women make to innovative, contemporary dance in the UK., a diverse range of dancers  commanding the space and storytelling with immense  clarity and sincerity. I was struck by the confident interaction and solidarity within the Gerry’s Attic company in pieces such as “When the Dust Settles” and “Traveller”.   Both  works  were strong, assertive statements, underscoring the creative potential of the company and making you wonder what they would go on to explore next.   

“Bloomin’eck” and “Seaside” could be perceived as falling into the “light and fluffy” category of entertainment but I did not find them so, both having  depth.  For example,  the three dancers  in “Bloomin’eck” were so physically and emotionally energised  by the beautifully overblown strains  of Elvis’s “The Wonder of You”  that they transmitted to   us  the audience the same  sense of  transcending  the  routine of our everyday lives.

Striking Attitudes’ “Time Breaks the Threaded Dances” made an equally  strong impression on me.  The integration of music (Bach), poetry (Auden) and the fine detail of the choreography combined to create what seemed to me to be an elegy to the dignity yet vulnerability of women in later life.

Gerry’s Attic Dance’s  “The Line Up” carried forward this essential vulnerability.  For me it captured what is known as  ‘ identity stripping’ as we age.  A loss of the social identities  that once reinforced our sense of self.  Their substitution  with  the role of ‘Carer’  was performed with a thoughtful simplicity, each facet of the carer’s life mimed then passed on from one dancer to the next. That they were seated at this point made this more effective, given that  the role of carer is inevitably perceived  as low-status.  I m reminded of an expression I discovered some time ago; “The Carer on the Couch”, sat there being spoken down to by social care professionals. 

All told it was reassuring to see dance works that conveyed a sensuality and an ease and delight in movement.  A big contrast to the type of social dance advocated for older people, research studies of which I’ve come across in the past.  For example formulaic styles  such as Line or Circle dancing, the benefit deriving from the being together and taking exercise  rather than any creative process. Fortunately the tide is turning, the artistic potential of older men and women is in the ascendant.

Massive thanks to Julia Thorneycroft, artistic director Gerry’s Attic Dance, Vicki Hearne, artistic director Untold Dance and assistant director with Gerry’s Attic and of course all the performers who made this such a great event.  

Sunday, April 14, 2019


In February Elspeth Penny of 2BU Productions very kindly invited me to join a panel on ageing as part of a conference entitled ‘Vulnerability, Exclusion and Domination’. This was organised by Dr. Dagmar Wilhelm of the Philosophy Department of the University of the West of England - my thanks to Dagmar as well. The following is adapted from the talk I gave:

My particular interest in gerontology has been  aesthetic experience and the ways  it defines the best and the worst of later life, grounds our embodied sense of being in the world and accentuates the cultural diversity of older men and women.   My purpose has been  to flag up later life as not simply  a time of sensory loss, biological deficiency and dependency, but a  life elevated and dignified by aesthetic experience.  

So what I’d like to develop today, hopefully in line with the themes -  vulnerability, exclusion and domination - are the ways in which aesthetic experience, as autonomous to the individual, tells us different stories.  Stories of lives that I believe are interstitial.   By this I mean lives lived betwixt and between the cracks, on the fringes of society and its normative expectations.   I’d argue that being interstitial generates a particular power if thought about as a challenge to those expectations.  A power driven by the particularity of aesthetic experience. 

To better explain this I want to focus on two extraordinary women who have always left a strong impression on me.  To do this I need to go back to about 1971 when I was 20.  Living in London, doing odd jobs, bar work, temping like thousands of other young women who’d left school with nothing of significance.    On the look-out for the type of man who’d buy you a meal in a restaurant where you knew you could escape through the kitchens if necessary.  I remember being at a party in North Kensington with this kind of man. The sort of party where everyone is on the make, out to get what they want.  That imperative filtered through an atmosphere - I can sense it now -  infused by the taste of warm, white wine; the smell of garlic, sweat, stale aftershave, perfume and weed.  A toxic mix of excitement cut with nervousness.   I notice a beautiful, dark haired woman in a group across the room. Others do too.  Her presence, her back story, compounded for me that sense of being vulnerable, on the edge.

 It was  Christine Keeler.  The model, topless dancer, or prostitute, as society of the time labelled her.  Notorious in the early 1960’s for her simultaneous affairs with the then secretary of state for war, John Profumo and a Soviet naval attache.  At the height of the Cold War no less.  If that wasn’t a taboo enough for the 1960s, at around that time Christine was also involved with a couple of African-Caribbean  men, Johnny Edgcombe and Lucky Gordon.  This volatile love triangle, involving a gun, then the police, lit the fuse that blasted the Profumo Scandal into the public domain. (1)   

Whilst acutely aware of the exploitative nature of the worlds she moved in,  Christine, on her own account,  enjoyed sex and was clearly fond of many of her lovers.  She reserved her hate for the hypocrisy and corruption that circulated around the Establishment. 

Inevitably, the popular media kept a constant watch on Christine throughout her life course.  She described with some irony how she was expected to take her clothes off for a later photoshoot re-presenting, as it were, the aesthetics of her youth.

 Ultimately the press published paparazzi shots of her when she was much older and clearly in very poor health; no doubt taking delight in that she had conformed at last, conformed paradoxically to some acceptable version of drab, invisible, old age.

I believe Christine is representative of so many women now in their sixties and seventies.  And an inspiration for me in the development of a script about two older women, ever rebels and refuseniks who’ve negotiated the same challenges.  In later life they are predictably oppositional to the “middle England”, age appropriate version that takes no account of their culturally diverse lifestyles and identities.

Turning now to my second, extraordinary – or interstitial -  woman.  She is what you might call a “real fiction” – but then in many respects so is Christine.  Again about 1971,  I remember watching with my mum a “Play for Today” – an innovative series commissioned by the BBC. The play was written by Jeremy Sa ndford better known for authoring  “Cathy Come Home”. 

Directed by Ken Loach, this  play  triggered the founding of the homeless charity, Shelter.  Sandford again  pursued the theme of homelessness with  “Edna the Inebriate Woman”. [2]

 My mum and I  were stunned.  Even without the award-winning  performance of the actress Patricia Hayes,  who played Edna, it was an incredibly powerful and coruscating work. 

The play follows the destitute Edna on the road; an older woman, probably in her sixties, Patricia Hayes’s age at the time.  We see her progress through the grim environments of local authority doss houses, rough sleeping, prison, and a psychiatric ward. We witness her experiences of indignity; at one point when she seeks shelter in a doss house she is required to strip for an attendant to shine a torch over her hair and the rest of her body to check for vermin.  In the same, sharp detail we see her experience of  violence,  electric shock treatment,  her interactions with fellow rough sleepers, psychiatric patients and of course the authorities of the time.  

Watching the play again, one scene stands out.  Edna is in the dock of a magistrates’ court having been arrested under the 1824 Vagrancy Act.  Distressed she shouts out repeatedly  at the magistrates: “ I am not the Vagrant, I am not the Vagrant..” A desperate plea to them, and us the audience, to recognize her essential humanity.  We, the audience, need no reminding.  Edna’s spirit, energy and resilience dominates Sandford’s play. She  transcends the bleakest of environments imaginable. Visceral, in that watching “Edna” many years on I still feel physically unsettled and emotionally haunted.

Remarkably, the 1824 Vagrancy Act still exists and if other stuff wasn’t currently getting in the way, hopefully stands a chance of being repealed. What we do know is that there has been a significant increase in older men and women rough sleeping in the UK.  Excluded physically, culturally and politically from society in circumstances no different from the 1970s.  They are utterly  removed from the representational aesthetics of ageing  purveyed by the UK’s charities, the  media and policy makers.  The jolly, glowing ‘Active Agers’ reflective of   a conventional, Western, retirement model of later life. Or the anonymized, faceless body in a cosy, centrally heated cocoon; framed by supportive arms and metal frames or reducible to a single hand enclosed by a much younger one.

To return to Christine and Edna and what  these brief sketches reveal of lives lived in the cracks or beyond societal norms.

Firstly,  the essential vulnerability of being a woman and in Christine’s case, being  an object of the male sexual gaze throughout her life until she ceases to deliver.  For Edna, being the embodiment of disgust to the point of dehumanisation. But secondly, I’d suggest that both women never conceal their appetite for life whether that be sex, physical intimacy, drink, the frisson of sociality, the vigour to survive, live dangerously  and  flout  moral prescription. Therein lies the power of their interstitial status. They are both sensual women.   Driven, for better or worse, by their aesthetic experiences as ways of being in the world.  For our part, we need a heightened sense of awareness that extends beyond the visual.  Tap into other sensual modalities to better understand what delights and repels if we are to better understand later life and its infinite cultural diversity.

[1] The image is that iconic photograph taken by Lewis Morley in 1963.
[2] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Edna-Inebriate-Woman-Jeremy-Sandford-ebook/dp/B007EDLBE0  Image from one of the scripted versions.  The entire play available online.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Theatre Bristol Call Out Notice

                                                 NEW WAVE AGEING    

I am a Bristol-based performer, teacher and gerontologist. I’ve grown up and grown older witnessing ‘new waves’, or  radical innovation, particularly in film and music.   I’d like to apply this spirit to the way we realise ageing via the performing arts, for now and the future.

Image; Ka-rel Headley

So this is a call-out to individuals and organizations working in our sector  to consider:-

·        How we explore and perform cultural diversity in later life.

·        How we  challenge traditional stereotypes  and the ageism they generate in society.  A current concern for Public Health and Equalities organizations.

·        How we might accommodate  marginal or countercultural expressions of  autonomy in later life. 

·        How you’d imagine   your own future might unfold, accounting for rapid social and technological change.

I am keen to make contact with theatre makers, whether you are an actor, dancer, writer or director and any other interested groups and individuals to:-

·        Establish the community and funding resources required to  develop new or existing work that captures the cultural diversity of later life in today’s society.

·        Identify the kind  of expertise we need, from  the arts and humanities, the social sciences, experts by experience and the community at large, to better  understand the political and cultural conditions and constraints that impact on later life.

I’d like to organize some informal meet-ups and work-in-progress events soonest.  I can be contacted on: jecross19@yahoo.co.uk

Saturday, March 30, 2019

A Discussion Document. Provocation and Proposal

I prepared this as much as a provocation for reflection and ideas as a draft proposal for action.  I sent it out earlier in March  to cultural and third sector organizations, university contacts and other interested parties.  Being too long for a blog post I am happy to forward it on if you comment here asking for it. 

These things are never complete; the whole purpose is you remember other arguments, new events happen and so forth.  This is the very much the purpose of this blog. So two further additions to that discussion I offer here.

Firstly, I am reminded of women who extend child bearing through their fifties and even beyond.    https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/aug/21/becoming-mother-in-50s-number-births-soaring  Nothing new here.  I have two friends who gave birth in their late forties. Medical advances have  extended these events further along the life course, simultaneously shifting the cultural structures of our lives.  But there have always been later life fathers at the school gate.

Secondly the  film maker Agnes Varda has just died.  For me she was not just such a remarkable role model within the arts and beyond.  As I have indicated, her  collaboration with the photographer and installation artist JR captured the power of creativity to subvert the boundaries society imposes on us.  This provided the inspiration for New Wave Ageing.