At the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse we have worked for some time with groups of people aged over 50, writes Moira Callaghan.
We have found that they have an enthusiastic and professional approach to artistic events – people turn up at the appointed time, they engage fully, and are willing to listen and learn. As well as calling on existing skills, they are keen to develop new skills. Due to work or family commitments, some people have not previously had the time to give free reign to artistic energies and interests, and as work demands lessen or retirement permits, they are anxious to try new things.
In May 2003 we devised the first artistic festival in Liverpool specifically for people aged over 50. The festival was run collaboratively with other artistic venues and museums and galleries in Liverpool. It revealed that there is really no limit to the artistic avenues older people are prepared to stroll along – or indeed dance along. Dance – tea dances, jazz, folk, tap, belly-dancing, creative dance, traditional Indian dancing, traditional Chinese dancing – proved to be a strong focus of interest for many over 50s. The end-results were imaginative, beautiful, elegant and very energetic, and the demand for continued activities is strong. A wonderful part of the festival was the rich diversity of cultural heritage offered by various cultural groups. Arts days offered by the Pakistani, Chinese, West African, Arab and Yemeni, Indian Sub-continent and Ukrainian communities provided a terrific mix of crafts, storytelling, music and dance.
Theatre-lovers fully embraced the play readings and page-to-stage events that we conducted. While discussion and analysis of texts was popular, we discovered that what people really love to do is to do what the playwrights intended: give voice to the written word. Numbers have continued to grow steadily at play readings, no matter what genre or period of text. Some people have been coming to the theatre for many years and seized the chance to see what goes on behind the scenes via talks with writers, directors, technicians and through tours of the theatres. Theatre tours were very popular and allowed people to gain an insight into the history and workings of present day theatres in Liverpool.
The marketing of Festival 50 began at the research and development stage, building a network of contacts and community gatekeepers throughout Merseyside. This included focus groups within communities and a key partnership with Age Concern. Once the programme was agreed between the venues and groups involved, a brochure was put together and sent out through these networks. In addition, existing distribution networks through local libraries, community centres and Liverpool City Council were utilised. Local press was a key factor in successfully marketing the festival; the venues and organisations involved pooled contacts to ensure all possible media channels were accessed. These contacts were all invited to a launch event, along with 50 people from across Merseyside representative of every age from 50 to 100 years. The festival itself ended with a celebration evening of performances and with new cohesive relationships formed among the artistic venues – and a commitment to repeat the experience on an annual basis.