Community Theatre Continues Cheeseman Vision

Posted on 04 July 2012

A theatre production developed from interviews with older residents in North Staffordshire and intergenerational workshops, and inspired by the ground-breaking work of the celebrated Victoria Theatre Company, will be performed on 11th July at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

‘Ages and Stages’ is a collaborative project between researchers from Keele University and the New Vic Theatre, which aims to explore the role that Stoke-on-Trent’s Victoria Theatre (now the New Vic Theatre) has played in the lives of people living and working in The Potteries during the last fifty years.

Looking back at the renowned social documentary work pioneered by Peter Cheeseman between the 1960s and 1990s, including The Knotty, Fight for Shelton Bar!, The Dirty Hill and Nice Girls, researchers from the University have interviewed nearly 100 older people about their involvement in the theatre over the years. They have also examined the depiction of older people and the theatre’s role in the history, culture and political landscape of this unique industrial community. 

The research will culminate in a new piece of documentary drama, ‘Our Age, Our Stage’, which will be performed in front of an audience of invited guests at the New Vic on Wednesday 11th July. The documentary aims to continue Peter Cheeseman’s vision for a two way dialogue between the theatre and its local community. The new social documentary explores ageing, intergenerational relations and the role the theatre has played – and continues to play - in the creative life of the people of Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire.

Miriam Bernard, Professor of Social Gerontology at Keele University, has led the research team.  “The location for this project is the Potteries.  This is an area with a long history of heavy industry which has undergone considerable social and economic change and decline over the last fifty years.  These changes have been charted by many institutions, including the New Vic Theatre, through the pioneering social documentaries developed under its founding Director, the late Peter Cheeseman.

“Our project highlights the importance of challenging stereotypes that creativity declines in old age; it demonstrates how theatre can be developed as a medium for the inclusion of both older adults and young people; and shows how important participation and volunteering can be at times of transition/bereavement.”

Our Age, Our Stage is being performed in a number of local venues including schools, colleges, retirement communities and local councils and the main performance will take place on 11th July 2012 at the New Vic Theatre, in association with the 2012 British Society of Gerontology (BSG) conference. The ‘Ages and Stages Exhibition’ is on show to the public at the New Vic Theatre until 21st July 2012.

The ‘Ages and Stages’ project is funded under the ‘New Dynamics of Ageing’ programme, a seven year research initiative that aims to improve quality of life for older people. Bringing together five UK Research Councils – ESRC, EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC and AHRC, it is the largest and most ambitious research programme on ageing mounted in the UK.