In the early 1990s, Pam Schweitzer discovered the pleasure of directing older people in shows based on their own memories and developed this approach in parallel with her professional productions. She has worked in partnership with directors and performing companies in USA and Germany and has supported the formation of many new groups in other European countries who have regularly shared their productions at European Reminiscence Network festivals. She has also developed productions performed by minority ethnic elders’ groups, based on their own stories and some of these have involved young people in schools and colleges. See her recently published book Reminiscence Theatre: making theatre from memories for a detailed account of this work. [Image right: 'Cheers']
The Good Companions older people’s theatre company 1992-2005
This remarkable group of older people formed in 1993 to mark the European Year of Older people.Aged 65 to 86, the Good Companions had no prior experience of performance, but they developed their own fresh and spontaneous approach to making theatre together. They worked with Pam Schweitzer on ten original productions, developed through improvisation around their own shared life experience. Some of these productions involved young people from the Age Exchange Youth Theatre which Pam also founded in 1987. The Good Companions toured their shows in the UK and across Europe and for many this was their first experience of foreign travel. [Image: Joyce Milan and Hyacinth Thomas]
Here follows a selection from the Good Companions productions:
I Remember When … (1992-3) This improvised play was devised with the help of Ingrid Berzau and Dieter Scholz from Freies Werkstatt Theater in Cologne. Older people aged 65 – 86 who had never performed before agreed to play out some of their memories of their young days. The play was also performed in Germany and for many of the cast that was their first experience of overseas travel.
Grandmother’s Footsteps (1994) This was an inter-generational piece involving the Age Exchange Youth Theatre and the Good Companions. Devised with Illona Linthwaite, the two groups performed together, the children playing the older people when they were young and the elders playing their grandparents. This popular play was toured to inter-generational audiences in Belgium, France, Germany and Austria.
Cheers (1995) This inter-generational play was devised for the first international festival of older people’s theatre marking the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II and attracting productions from USA, Taiwan and across Europe showing how elders had experienced the end of the war and the years immediately following. This production was performed in a specially created 3-dimensional environment, which helped our international visitors to engage with the action and situation. The play was taken to Cologne for a sister festival later in the year. [Image: 'Cheers']
Work in Progress (1996) devised by Pam with the cast from individual and shared memories, the older people re-enacted their early experiences of the working world with a great deal of humour and inventiveness. The development of the play and its performance were recorded in a documentary radio programme for the BBC by Cheryl Armitage.
Our Century and Us (1999) This was the most ambitious play created with the GoodCompanions, travelling through time from their earliest memories in 1920 to the Millennium. Eleven older women and one man evoked scenes from across their lives through powerful images, personal stories, song and choreographed sequences. The play was performed at the Senior Theatre Festivals in Cologne (1999) and London (2000) along with companies from across the world.
Jubilee (2002-3) This show was devised to mark the 50th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II and was drawn from the older people’s memories of their lives in the early 1950s. It played across the country at Jubilee parties with enormous success and threw the emphasis on to the experience of life of ‘ordinary’ people, encouraging them to share their stories after the show. The book featuring these memories gives a complete breakdown of how the show was made and the script which emerged from the stories.
Friendly Street (2004-5) The last play by the Good Companions retraced theirchildhood experiences of the streets where they grew up. It was devised for inclusion in a multicultural festival entitled 'The Place Where I Grew Up' and was performed alongside plays from African, Asian, Caribbean and Chinese elders all living today in south east London.
Other senior theatre productions
Pam has staged many productions by older people from minority ethnic groups. These have been developed around their own experience in their countries of origin and in Britain, and much of this theatre work has been inter-generational in nature. Caribbean, Chinese, African and Indian groups have worked on shows in their community groups and in schools settings, sharing their histories and giving pleasure to audiences from across Europe. [Image left: Esther Liu leads Chinese elders]
Pam has recently run training workshops in Germany, Denmark, Spain, France and Canada in this area of her work, and these workshops are giving rise to new initiatives in reminiscence-based senior theatre. [Image right: Reminiscence training in Romania]
(see also the Professional Theatre page )