Theatre and ageing

Authored by: Miriam Bernard , Lucy Munro

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Gerontology

Print publication date:  June  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415631143
eBook ISBN: 9780203097090
Adobe ISBN: 9781136221033


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Social and critical gerontologists, as well as literary and cultural scholars, have become increasingly interested in the artistic engagement of older people, and in how the arts may construct, perpetuate or challenge stereotypical views and existing models of the ageing process (Basting 1998, 2009, Small 2007, Lipscomb and Marshall 2010, Mangan 2013). Theatre is a particularly fruitful context for such explorations, not least because it is a cultural arena in which both ageing and older people are highly visible as audience members and as volunteers (DCMS 2013). In addition, older people feature strongly in the theatrical cultures of many countries and eras, both as performers and characters. Yet, although some plays present complex meditations on ageing, it is also true, as Mangan (2013: 23) argues, that ‘theatre and performance has always made extensive use of stereotypes and stock characters’, and these include caricatured old men and old women. Similarly, many cultural institutions, not just individuals, tend to hold stereotypical and deficit views of what older people are or are not capable of and will tend to write off, or ignore, their contributions to their communities and localities in cultural as in other arenas (Cutler 2009). Despite many valuable critiques, the role that older people play in making theatre—in both professional and non-professional contexts—is poorly understood or researched, as is theatre’s potential to develop individuals and communities, and its role—or potential role—in fostering intergenerational relationships. Thus, the purpose of this chapter is threefold: first, to look at how ageing and older people have been—and are currently—represented on the professional stage; second, to describe the evolution of older people’s theatre groups in various contexts; and, third, to examine what the existing research evidence tells us about older people’s experiences of theatre-making. It concludes with suggestions for a number of areas that cultural and critical gerontologists might like to explore further.

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