From Leeds to the Edinburgh Festival… to Poland.

How Cinage changed my life – by Ann West, a Trustee of Growing Old Grace-fully

I remember vividly being invited to watch 6 short films created by older people, in collaboration with staff and students from Leeds Beckett April 2017. I found the themes fascinating, and relevant to my life. I  was even more interested in the invitation to join a live performance course, which Teresa Brayshaw was about to run with participants over the age of 65. I knew immediately that this was a must for me.


I realised that the travelling would be quite a commitment, and that I had no idea what a live performance would look like. In fact I initially has difficulty explaining my enthusiasm to friends, who said they could not think of anything they would like to do less.


There were 8 of us at the initial workshop, and 3 of the group already knew each other, 3 others had already had input into the film making Cinage course. I knew no one, however Teresa had the ability to make every exercise a comfortable experience. She managed the initial reluctance of some participants, the super confidence of others, and made us all feel that we mattered, and that what we said or wrote about ourselves was of value.


I loved being introduced to different aspects of performance, like the dance session. We were taught by experienced professionals, who in deference to our not so lithe bodies, created sequences which were creative and amusing. We were learning to be with each other, and create happenings together. I did remember at this point doing dance drama at college over 50 years ago, when it was termed modern educational dance, and reconnected with my young memories.


We also saw a variety of short films, some from Eastern Europe, which expanded our ideas about the range of performance including mime.  The weekly sessions were becoming high points for me – a change from  a lifestyle, which although fulfilling, and varied, could be quite draining and demanding. This was demanding in a different way, but also nurturing, we were being listened to, our lived lives mattered, and we listened to what each person had to say and understood a little more about each other.


For me this was a huge change. We would write on various subjects, and I would email these thoughts to friends and family. Somehow doing the course made it possible to open conversations about what it was like to be an older person, what it was like to be retired. I discovered that my children found these writings  to be full of insight, and made them think about their lives, and they encouraged me to write a book.


I consider this to be a major change. My children are caught up in the busy life syndrome , too busy to have much leisure family time or long conversations, so these pieces, written for cinage, opened up conversations about subjects that mattered.


The process of developing versions of ourselves, which we then performed in public, also made me reflect on what my life had become.  Over the course of the year I made some changes, being less frenetic about going on marches and more accepting of  the challenges of illness among friends and family.


I had always believed that our generation had a role to change the attitudes of younger people to ageing. I did not imagine that the Cinage live experience would give our group such a public platform to do that. I am so grateful to Teresa and her team who had the vision to believe in us, and to make it happen.     It also feels that this is the start of an important contribution to changing attitudes, through performance.


Richard Demarco who created the Edinburgh Fringe in 1948 , saw a version of our performance, and invited us to perform at the Edinburgh Festival this year. We have just returned from there , and amazingly our performance was so well received that a trip to Poland to perform there , is on the cards. In 15 years  time there will be more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 15.We older people have a job to do dispelling myths and prejudice about old age, and this type of performance from over 70s does just that.

Here’s a review from Professor Steve Bottoms Edinburgh Festival 2018 review.

Ann West


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