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Professional Theatre

Voices from the Shadows

Voices from the Shadows is a professional theatre production devised by Pam Schweitzer featuring the experience of people with dementia and their carers. Their words are delivered by two older professional actors, Pamela Lyne and Godfrey Jackman, in highly charged 4-minute extracts from their letters, writings and recordings, thus ensuring that their voices are clearly heard in the conference context. The extracts demonstrate anger and sadness, but are also full of humour and compassion.

This production was developed for the Alzheimers Society and is available from the society in DVD form as an educational pack for use in training events and conferences concerning dementia, complete with ideas for stimulating discussion amongst family and professional carers. Contact the Alzheimers Society for more information:

Professional Theatre

Schweitzer, P. (2006) Reminiscence Theatre: Making Theatre from Memories, London: Book pulished by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Click here for further information.

Reminiscence Theatre: Making Theatre from Memories'Sheds new light on complex human issues and the message is loud and clear: reminiscence and reminiscence theatre can make a profound improvement in real people's real lives.'

From the Foreword by Glenda Jackson MP

'The vast scope of the work recounted in this book as well as the detailed guidance it provides will become an invaluable resource for anyone who wishes to mine the riches of reminiscence work and to transform the spoken word into tangible artistic forms.'

Faith Gibson, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of Ulster

Selected examples of professional Reminiscence Theatre productions
by Pam Schweitzer for Age Exchange Theatre 1983-2005

Vincent and Rose in 'Routes'All the productions mentioned below were based on extensive individual and group interviews with older people and many used the interview material in verbatim form. All these productions involved professional writers, actors, musical directors, designers and stage managers working with director Pam Schweitzer. The resulting shows toured widely, initially in the local area and subsequently nationally and internationally. [Image: Vincent Ibrahim and Rosaline Dean in 'Routes']

* indicates written and directed by Pam Schweitzer

+ indicates directed by Pam Schweitzer

* Fifty Years Ago (1983) The first professional production by Age Exchange Theatre, based on interviews with older people in sheltered houses in Greenwich, developed with the actors through improvisation to script, premiered at Greenwich Festival.

+ Of Whole Heart Cometh Hope (1983) The first reminiscence show to use verbatim text from interviews. Chrys Salt created the show to celebrate the centenary of the Co-operative Women’s Guild, opening at their national rally at Central Hall Westminster.

+ All Our Christmases (1983) Extending the partnership with writer Chrys Salt, this production created a family story from the verbatim recorded and written memories of older people in Greenwich. This was the most developed production to date with musical direction, full costume and a professionally designed set by Rob Luxton.

* My First Job (1984) The actors conducted the interviews themselves around the theme of starting work in the 1920s and 30s and helped in devising the show. For the first time the production incorporated back-projected images and on-stage costume changes to help place the scenes in time and space. Regular performers Steve Gribbin and Amanda Carlton joined the company and Marilyn Gordon composed the musical score.

* A Place To Stay (1984) The first production involving a multicultural cast, who interviewed the elders (many in mother tongues) and helped devise scenes around the stories they had collected. The show featured use of Punjabi, Gujerati, Greek and Jamaican patois as well as English. Music was composed, arranged and performed by Jo Richler, drawing on the different cultures featured in the play. The cast included Ken Breinburg, Dhirendra and Georgia Clark and the show toured nationally and played at the Frankfurt Theatre Festival.

War Mum+ What Did You Do in the War, Mum? (1985) This was the first of a series of fruitful collaborations with writer Joyce Holliday. Extensive interviews were conducted with 60 women concerning their wartime work and, for the first time, several of the contributors attended rehearsals and directed their own scenes. The play used verbatim text, documentary material and songs of the period. Musical direction was by Paula Gardiner, again the first of many artistic collaborations. An all women cast toured the play nationally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II. The play had further productions and was toured widely in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.

+ Can We Afford the Doctor? (1985) This popular show was again written by Joyce Holliday from interviews which, this time, she had conducted herself with older people, including retired health professionals. Music was arranged and composed by well-known performer and song-writer Sandra Kerr. The entire research, rehearsal and performance process was documented by Channel Four Television and the resulting 90 minute documentary was shown twice.

+ The Time of Our Lives (1986 and 1992) Writer Pauline Devaney worked from interviews conducted by herself and Pam Schweitzer to create a non-verbatim script around stories of leisure, pleasure and young love.

Many Happy Retirements* Many Happy Retirements (1986) This turned out to be Age Exchange’s longest-running show, playing regularly for 20 years, the last performance being in November 2006. Pamela Lyne and Godfrey Jackman performed the lived experiences of people who had faced the transition to retirement and had recorded their reactions and coping strategies. This play stimulated groups on pre-retirement courses to open up and share with one another some of the more personal and private challenges they were facing.
From Stepney Green to Golders Green* From Stepney Green to Golders Green (1987) This verbatim play was developed from recorded group and individual interviews with Jewish elders in synagogues, day centres and their own homes. It charted the experience of growing up in the “Jewish East End” and was performed to Jewish and gentile audiences across the country. A Jewish cast of Linda Polan, Charles Wegner and Gillian Gallant performed with live music and the play was taken to Macon in France for their international Theatre Festival.

Across The Irish Sea* Across The Irish Sea (1988) This musical play featured the verbatim memories of older Irish people living in London whose stories were recorded in churches, Irish clubs and their own homes by Maxine O’Reilly and Pam Schweitzer. The play demanded an on-stage musician playing traditional Irish instruments and found much favour on both sides of the Irish Sea and later in Germany (East and West as they then were). A BBC Radio 4 documentary recording the making of this show from memories won a Sony award.

On The River* On The River (1989) Marking the centenary of the Dockers Strike, this verbatim show was based on 74 interviews conducted by Pam Schweitzer and the cast in dockers clubs, pubs and along the river. With backing from the Transport and General workers Union the cast, including Andy Andrews and Charles Wegner, played in port cities across the country.

+ Just Like The Country (1991) A third collaboration with writer Joyce Holliday on a verbatim play concerning the building of “homes fit for heroes” between the wars. This play opened at the Royal Institute of British Artchitects and was performed on all the outer London “cottage estates” to tenants old and young.

Routes* Routes (1992) This was a highly innovative fully bilingual production (English and Punjabi) performed by an Indian cast (including Vincent Ibrahim, Kalim Janjua, Sevva Dhalival and Robina Mir) and based on their interviews with Asian elders. This play was revived four times over the years in response to demand, with new cast members including Ajay Chhabra, Rezz Kempton, Rosaline Dean and Pavan Virk. The show played in Asian venues and small theatres across the country. It also found much favour overseas in Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, where minority groups in particular were able to respond to its graphic images and its powerful musical expression of the migrant experience.

Once Upon a Lifetime+ Once Upon A Lifetime (1999) Written for the company by Clare Summerskill, this play was drawn entirely from interviews with a single source, a local woman in her 80s. The play travelled through her lifetime and served to trigger parallel experiences of living through the century from older audiences. This play was musically ambitious (Paula Gardiner again MD-ing) incorporating music from many periods relating to the heroine’s experience and involving a very strong musical cast of Angela Bain, Rebecca Clow, Owain Williamson and Clare Summerskill herself.
Storyteller and Performer working together on collecting stories for Memory Lane* Memory Lane (2003) Co-written with Clare Summerskill, this play drew on the stories of older people who had grown up in a single street in south east London and charted their lives through the decades. Built entirely from verbatim memories, especially from two ‘star’ story-tellers who had been friends for 80 years, this play pleased 85 audiences across London and the south-east of England. Peter Hayward was the gifted musical director with a multi-skilled cast of actor/singer/instrumentalists, Jules Davison, Angela Bain, Neil Gore and Neil Carter, all experienced performers of reminiscence theatre. [Image: Storyteller and performer working together on collecting stories for 'Memory Lane']

TIE (Theatre in Education) shows for Age Exchange

A Child at War* Good Morning Children (1989) This whole-day participatory show for single classes of junior school pupils was devised by Pam with Illona Linthwaite. It actively involved the older people and included the creation of a complete 3-dimensional environment in the Reminiscence Centre to support the action.

* Goodnight Children Everywhere (1989 - 90) Devised by Pam with actor Andy Andrews, this show marked the 50th anniversary of the evacuation of thousands of London children to the comparative safety of the countryside on the outbreak of World War II. The children spent the day reliving the evacuation experience and working with older people who had themselves been evacuees. [Image: Child's drawing 'Child At War']

(see also the Senior Theatre page )