Why Do Old Dogs Need New Tricks to be Noticed and $upported.

Convener(s): Chris Grady

Participants: Alison M, Emma Bernard, Fiona Watson, Ricky Tarascas, Cindy Oswin, Gera Spencer, Ela Parry  (apologies if I’ve missed or misspelt anyone)

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

The question was quickly seen to have two “meanings” – the first maybe more intended by the Convenor, was an issue about older theatre companies or maybe playwrights wishing to continue to deliver the same work as had been wanted and enjoyed and respected before, and whether there was a problem with a desire from funding bodies seeking the next new thing, person or strategy. 

However the gathering rather more focused on what the role or issues were for those who arrived in the industry late, or those who had been around a whiles and felt themselves as “old dogs” wondering whether age and experience carried them or whether “new tricks” were needed.  The following stream of notes comes mainly from this area of discussion…

  • Directors are often looking for people they find interesting and want to have tea with – more experienced creatives have more maturity and interest to offer directors, so this may help in being hired over the young turk.
  • But Shit I’m not a 25 year old gay man – will I still get a look in.  I wake up every day struggling to get out of bed with my self esteem intact. I struggle to be mentally fit not to feel society is saying I’m too old.
  • Stay in (or get into) a learning environment anywhere in order to stimulate you, find something new.
  • Maybe we have a freer more open mind to learning as an older person.
  • We often see the mentality of the greatness (infalability ?) of youth – whilst maybe projects are crying out for age and wisdom. Sometimes youth denigrate age and maybe there is also a backlash against age. 

We then looked a little at the first meaning (companies as old dogs) 

  • We need to make brazen statements that we are good. Stop pretending or being shy.
  • Loads of money has been thrown away on finding new writers and offering massive support for their first piece of theatre…then what happens…the writer is not given support for the next piece. 

Back to personal old dogs…

  • Are there enough opportunities to learn “new tricks” mid-career. MAYBE WE SHOULD LINK WITH THE MID-CAREER GROUP FOR A MONDAY SESSION…
  • “New tricks” include making use of Facebook and even the computer
  • Those who have been in long-service are not necessarily good, they may have become complacent, or reached creative maturity and become static.  That’s true of companies, writers, and individuals.
  • Some participants relished the idea of help with their cv’s to re-energise and re-positivise their message as older warriors.  Came baxck to an earlier thought which was the problem sometimes of getting through the door with “age” for an interview to enable wisdom to shine through.

There was then a tremendously positive discussion about being an older actress, either staying in the fold or returning after a break, and the wisdom of knowing the old tricks better than most of the young ones. Whilst the role of Juliet might not be available (even if the desire to play it is there still), there were appropriate roles out there which the bright young things couldn’t go for.  An interesting different issue from say, the playwright or the director or theatre manager where age (up or down) may be seeing the same “roles”.

  • In the old days I had depression for a week when I didn’t get a role, now I say Oh Damn, on we go.
  • The world of “interns” and free workers has seriously reduced some of the jobs available for “hire”
  • Only one bad experience for one actor – laughed at as a silly old cow – because of offering guidance and experience to younger company – a rare occurance, where normally wisdom is welcomed
  • Danger that they can smell the fear on you…and age then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

An example shared of a partnership where an older creative was brought in to be Assnt Director to work with/for a much younger Director. This was seen as a very brave thing to do. It offered an opportunity to consider status balance – how to deal with this sensitively to honour the risk taken by the younger director, whilst offering the wisdom of age. It could come over as arrogant or scared from either side.

An example of bringing on board a much younger Associate to work with a freelancer was also shared. Working in partnership to really benefit from wisdom and youth, age and experience. 

We then returned to companies for a moment

  • The example of Cheek by Jowl continuing what it has always done, but with a logo change over time.  An appearance of new tricks whilst honouring the old dog.  Maybe this helped retain funding.
  • The example of Bernard Leech making beautiful pots which have in essence stayed the same, but his skill has got better and better. 

We were at this point passed by two younger players in D&D, they looked in at the title, saw the circle and the world of Old Dogs, and their faces of dismissal were a picture !!! 

We were then joined by some other participants. A very different view from young participants (who did join the circle) expressing the view that at times the world of the arts could be seen by younger/new folk to be filled by older people still doing the same things in a middleclass safe way.    

Our final moments talked of

  • the need for peers to challenge you to move on, get better, check in with quality and risk taking.
  • The importance of making material that you WANT to rather than just to tick a box.
  • But maybe its also about understanding what they (funders etc) want and writing it in the right way.