The Ages and Stages project led to the creation of a theatre company, new plays and the Live Age Festival, reaching over 3,000 participants and still expanding.

Impact

  • The Ages and Stages Theatre Company, based at the New Vic Theatre with 24 core members, was set up as a result of research by Professor Miriam Bernard and colleagues. It is increasingly recognised for its work, and has been invited to perform at events at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, and West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.
  • The Company’s Artistic Director, Jill Rezzano, has recently been awarded a Big Lottery grant to extend Ages and Stages to reach more isolated and vulnerable older people in Staffordshire – working in partnership with community organisation Bentilee Volunteers. The project is supported by members of the Ages and Stages Company who act as peer mentors.
  • Findings from the original research were used to create a new documentary drama called Our Age, Our Stage, seen by over 700 people, and an associated month-long exhibition at the New Vic. Four further works – Happy Returns, Welcome to Silence, Out of the Box and Our Lives as Art – have also been produced.
  • The research also underpins the development of the annual Live Age Festival which, since 2014, has showcased and celebrated creativity in later life. It is open to people of all ages and offers a broad range of free activities and events. The festival has grown rapidly, with some 3,000 people taking part in 2016.
  • Between 2017 and 2019 the festival is being extended into a year-round community programme of commissioned arts events and performances created with and for older people. Funded by Arts Council England and The Baring Foundation, the ‘Meet me at Live Age’ programme reaches out to new audiences across Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire. The programme also offers training and placement opportunities for older people to become volunteer ambassadors.
  • The continuing partnership with the New Vic Theatre also saw the team develop and deliver a professional training course to raise awareness of ageing amongst professionals working in arts organisations, the voluntary sector, local government, and health and social services.

"Through our work with Professor Bernard we have seen real change take place in the real lives of older people, and that change has been both profound and true." (Theresa Heskins, Artistic Director, New Vic Theatre)

About the research

Professor Miriam Bernard has led the Ages and Stages projects since 2009. A continuing collaboration between Keele University and the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, the original project explored the impact that theatre can have on people’s perceptions and experience of ageing.

The initial ESRC study, awarded under the cross-council New Dynamics of Ageing research programme, examined what role the New Vic Theatre has played in the lives of older people living and working in the Potteries, Stoke-on-Trent – an industrial area that has undergone major social and economic changes over the past 50 years. The researchers looked at how the theatre had portrayed ageing and later life by analysing archives of social documentaries produced between 1964 and 1995. They then interviewed 95 older people involved with the theatre in order to find out what role the New Vic had played in their lives.

The findings showed that participating in theatre and drama had benefitted the wellbeing, self-esteem, self-confidence and vitality of older people. It helped them feel that they belonged, and gave them a secure base from which they could widen their experiences, broaden their horizons, take risks and be challenged. In particular, the project showed that being involved in theatre and drama had helped them make sense of big life events like bereavement and retirement.