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Ages and Stages: the place of theatre in the lives of older people



Despite the growing interest amongst gerontologists and literary and cultural scholars alike, in arts participation, ageing and the artistic outputs of older people, comparatively little attention has yet been paid to theatre and drama. Likewise, community or participatory theatre has long been used to address issues affecting marginalised or excluded groups, but it is a presently under-utilised medium for exploring ageing or for conveying positive messages about growing older. This paper seeks to address this lack of attention through a detailed case study of the place of one particular theatre – the Victoria/New Victoria Theatre in North Staffordshire, England – in the lives of older people. It provides an overview of the interdisciplinary Ages and Stages project which brought together social gerontologists, humanities scholars, psychologists, anthropologists and theatre practitioners, and presents findings from: the archival and empirical work exploring the theatre's pioneering social documentaries and its archive; individual/couple and group interviews with older people involved with the theatre (as audience members, volunteers, employees and sources); and ethnographic data gathered throughout the study. The findings reaffirm the continuing need to challenge stereotypes that the capacity for creativity and participation in later life unavoidably and inevitably declines; show how participation in creative and voluntary activities shapes meanings associated with key life transitions such as bereavement and retirement; and emphasise the positive role that theatre and drama can play as a medium for the inclusion of both older and younger people.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Miriam Bernard, Professor of Social Gerontology, School of Public Policy & Professional Practice, Keele University, Staffordshire ST5 5BG, UK. E-mail:


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