How do you see me?
By Dr. Alison Bracker and Amy Bluett
Published on 30 March 2014
This Friday, we welcome the theatre company Small Things, who will present a performance that challenges perceptions of age and ageing.
We first discovered Small Things when we went to a conference last year called Mirror Mirror: Representations and Reflections on Age and Ageing. The performance had an incredible, emotional impact on us as audience members, and we are really pleased to be able to present How Do You See Me? to an RA audience.
This event came about as part of a creative partnership the RA has been part of since 2010, with St Christopher’s Hospice. Each year, the two organisations collaborate on specially tailored art workshops for hospice patients and their families. These events have included guided visits to our exhibitions, workshops held at the hospice itself, and an annual event exploring the relationship between the arts and issues arising from the ageing process, death or bereavement.
We asked Liz Postlethwaite, Director of Small Things, to tell us a little more about the project.
What is Small Things?
Small Things is an artist-led social enterprise using creativity and engagement to fuel learning and change. We do this by developing creative experiences and performances that inspire people. Everything we do is inspired by an interest in the power of art and the part that this can play within wider social change.
Tell us about How Do You See Me?
How Do You See Me? was originally commissioned by London College of Fashion. They were developing a conference around fashion and age and asked us to create a piece of performance. How Do You See Me? is what we came up with in response to this wonderfully wide and rich starting point. As it was part of an academic conference, we decided to explore the form of a lecture and use this to investigate how people's sense of self shifts and changes with age.
The performers in How Do You See Me? are not professional actors. How did they become involved in the production?
There are seven performers in How Do You See Me? and for most of them this is their first time on stage! I love working with non-professional performers, I feel that they have a naturalness and honesty on stage that is hard to beat – it brings a vulnerability and complexity with it that is irresistible to audiences. Some of the cast are friends and colleagues I’ve known for a long time, others responded to an open call for performers that we put out in Manchester. So, we have a very diverse company and I think this brings a lovely richness to the piece: we have all lived very different lives and are all coming from very different perspectives.
How can a theatrical performance change society’s perceptions of ageing?
When we made this work I don't think we were aiming specifically to change people's perceptions – we wanted to make something that was accessible and engaging and that drew people in. I think in doing that, you inevitably turn a mirror back on your audience to make them consider where they are in their own life, and how their experiences relate to those around them.
What do you think audiences of varied ages and backgrounds will take away from How Do You See Me?
When we first performed our show in Manchester, afterwards one of the audience told us ‘I feel like I have made seven new friends’. I think that is a really good way of expressing how people feel after seeing How Do You See Me? – that they have been drawn into the lives of seven strangers and that, over the course of an hour, they have got to know them really well. I think being able to connect with others in that way is a real luxury that we don't get to do so much in our day-to-day lives.
As we prepared for this event, we tweeted "What question would you like to ask an older person but have never dared?" How would you answer this question?
Questions are a big part of this show and we have a huge bag of them that we’ve written together and that feature in the performance. Every time we perform, we add new ones to keep the cast on their toes and to keep the performance fresh. I think that now I’ve been on this creative journey with this group of seven older people, I would like to pose a question to them specifically: "How has being part of How Do You See Me? changed your own perception of age and ageing? And how has being part of it changed you as a person?"
Dr Alison Bracker and Amy Bluett are part of the RA’s Events and Lectures team.