This chapter examines a creative participatory research programme which highlights the benefits of theatre engagement for older people. Creative participatory research of this nature has a number of benefits and challenges. First, this kind of research places older people very much at the centre as opposed to simply being respondents to surveys and interviews. Second, using the artistic medium — namely, theatre and drama — in which the researchers were working to ‘show’ rather than just describe or write up the research findings was a logical approach to take. Third, there are, of course, challenges for everyone involved: the whole process is a risky one. Ultimately, the benefit of this approach is that it recognises, acknowledges, and enhances the skills and abilities that older people have; captures and conveys some of the less tangible aspects of experience and participation; and shows audiences something of the actual creative process.
Despite increasing evidence that continued engagement in creative activities is beneficial as we navigate later life, we still know comparatively little about what participation in theatre, and specifically in theatre-making, means to participants. This chapter presents selected findings from a detailed interdisciplinary case study of one particular theatre - the Victoria/New Victoria Theatre in North Staffordshire - in the lives of older people. The chapter describes how the project took shape; how each of its three strands (archival, interview and performative) developed; and how its rich and complex data set has been used: with a focus on articulating the place of the theatre in people’s lives, and on their understandings of its role in relation to ageing and later life.
This chapter discusses the narratives of ageing, looking at how older people can reflect on their lives and explore new opportunities. This concern with how older people represent themselves, and are represented by others, is a relatively new one in gerontology. On the other hand, images of old age and especially ageing bodies have such a powerful and largely negative impact on social attitudes to older people. The NDA authors seek to challenge this point of view by developing transformative narratives through participation in a range of arts-related activities including reading, art appreciation, community arts, and photography. This chapter examines five path-breaking NDA projects where older people actively engaged with the dominant cultural narratives of ageing. It also explores more positive and personally enriching narratives which demonstrate creativity and opened up numerous new possibilities for them.