Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Truth to Our Material Lives



Going back now to June in this Summer of Covid.  I applied to take part in  an online Demostage event for the new  Bristol Culture Channel to discuss the thinking behind and development of Age Queer.  As this link describes it, a chance to outline an idea and get feedback from an audience. The selection of six, five minute presentations was wide ranging, including technology inspired street games, community theatre and novel modes of communication.  I had to come on last on a very hot night!

Being used to fifteen minute conference presentations I found five minutes a tough call particularly attempting to include extracts of the script.  Nevertheless I’m learning that each iteration of Age Queer leads to new insights for myself.  Feedback was positive with virtual claps and comments in the Zoom chat box that suggested the concept of Age Queer appealed to an audience largely comprised of Bristol's arts and culture community. What does stand out was interest in my reference to material culture and its personal significance in later life.  I’d cited the contrast between the sensuality  of pure, linen sheets valued throughout the life course and the peach, polycotton sheets on a single bed in a care home. 

In fact a napkin made from the kind of linen used for bedding that I wish I had!

We agreed that the tactile, sensual elements of the performance really mattered. This led me to think far more about the immersive turn the play should take beyond verbal exchanges with the audience, to the point where they can touch, hold or smell  significant artefacts. At least some time beyond Covid. 

 I initiated the question of funding the project by suggesting that I would have to crowdfund from particular communities.  I pointed out that this week would have been Glastonbury Festival and I felt that Michael Eavis and the wider Festival community would have appreciated and supported the project.  Of course I was not suggesting the Arts Council was ageist!


Here are two extracts from Age Queer  I’d intended to include in the presentation to clarify the project’s purpose.  The first extract is a critique of using chronological age as a determinant of who you are and a hint at the way time and chance will inform the trajectory of the play.  The second an appeal to recognise cultural diversity in later life.  (The first fitted in but there was no time for the second).

From the opening scene (provisionally any of the projected characters): Sometime in the 1980’s  I am on a train back to London.  I pick up a Sunday Times colour supplement and start reading an article about a German soldier, a keen photographer,  stationed in the Lodz  ghetto, Poland, during the 2nd World War. 

And I come across this picture.  At its centre is  a small child.    He or she is   lying  on their  side on a pavement, knees pulled up and clothed in layers of  rags,  with filthy bare feet  and a woollen peaked cap on their head.  He or she is alive,  eyes staring out ,  lips parted.  Passing behind this child are three older children, two boys and a girl.  Only the girl glances down.  Even though her legs are stockinged they are painfully thin.  You know why they are passing by.  They do not want to catch that child’s  imminent death. 

This moment in time is within eight or nine years of my birth.  But this child is born into acute suffering.  I am born into peace, warmth, nourishment and love.   Clarks sandals,  boiled eggs and soldiers…but the difference between me and this child is well under a decade.

That little boy or girl and me.  Such a short space of time between us.

So my birthday age doesn’t fix me.  Not at all. I didn’t choose it.  But this does.  This child and me. 

So don’t fuck about with my age.  You don’t own it any more than I do.  That would be messing with my sense of time which belongs to me.   My being in the world, where I’m at.  Don’t go there. 

The second extract is from a scene set in a local café / bar. A representative of a charity for older people has been promoting the range of opportunities and activities for those “over 55”.

Alan: But just clock  that woman by herself over there. Reading the New Statesman upside down.  That’s Evelyn.  Modelled for Mary Quant, Biba, Dior,  photographed by Bailey, Parkinson, the lot in the sixties.  Her daughter leaves her here in the afternoons with an espresso and a baguette.  Wouldn’t dream of taking her to the playschool at the community centre. Anyone here will take her to the loo, buy her another coffee or take her outside for a fag.    She’ll get up and join us when she sees the bottle of Prosecco I’m about to buy.  She just likes to be treated like an adult. And the beautiful woman she still is.  See that framed  photograph up on the wall over there?  The management put it up.  Evelyn modelling a St Laurent dinner suit.  On a summer’s  night, somewhere in Le Marais.  Terry Donovan I think it was.   She just knows where she belongs.

Charity Worker. Surely she has a social worker?

Alan: (pause)  I think perhaps you’d better go. 

These recent iterations of Age Queer have made me realise how much my doctoral thesis, now five years old, left its impression on the way I work now.   “Truth to the Materiality of Later Life: the Significance of the Aesthetic for the Support of Older People”.  The cultural and aesthetic foundations of our life course should be sustained. Instead your later life is vulnerable to the imposition of a false, homogenized version of what passes for support.

My next post will chart the development of Odd Lot Theatre Company established over this Covid Summer and which I feel privileged to be part of.

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