Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number?

Raidene Carter, Head of Creative Programmes at the Albany, on why teenagers and retirees hold a special place in the Albany’s artistic vision. Find out more about Meet Me At The Albany, our artist led day club for the over 60s, and UNCOVER, our creative programme for 13 – 19 year olds. 

Age ain’t nothing but a number… So sang 90s R&B songstress Aaliyah (R.I.P). As much as I’ve always loved Aaliyah, my recent experiences working at the Albany have given me another perspective.  Age is much more than a number, as we’re learning through our creative programmes for young people, who are using arts as a means of self discovery, and mature people who are channeling their life experience through their artistic engagement. So why don’t we more often celebrate age as a creative catalyst?

I was 14 when Aaliyah released that tune, the same age as many of the Albany’s current Uncover Youth Theatre members. It came around in my shuffle on Friday, by chance, on a walk after two meetings – one with Roisin Feeny, Co-Director of the youth theatre group which caters for 13-19 year olds, and the other about Meet Me at the Albany, our artist led day club for the over 60s. It prompted me to notice that I had deduced the same broad idea out of both meetings: that age (or, strictly speaking, life experience in years) is a defining characteristic of the work artists make, especially when a number of the same age collaborate to create. Our industry, has spent the last couple of decades promoting the importance of youth arts, and, more recently, been seriously investing in older people’s arts so that proves there’s more to age than acne and wrinkles.

Two things…

1. Youth Is Wasted On The Young.

No. No, it isn’t.  If you came to see Uncover Youth Theatre’s response to Yam Yam! Festival, The Big Food Fight, you’d agree. They wasted a fair bit of jelly and spaghetti, but not an ounce of their youth, and, for that messy 55minutes I wanted to be them: sliding around, being outrageous, clever, cheeky and FUN. I admit, I envied their recklessness but laughed so much forgot I was an adult at work. The attitude on show was the same that is prevalent in the best work with young people – shows like Ontroerend Goed’s Once and For All We’re Going to Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen and Junction 25’s I Hope My Heart Goes First – it was energetic, and it was exuberant, and crucially, it was YOUNG.

2. You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks.

Er. Yes. Yes, you can. If you pop into the Albany on a Tuesday you’ll struggle to get a table in the Café because 30 of our Meet Me at the Albany regulars will be (over a cup of tea and biscuits) trying out something for the first time. The week before last they had a session in the theatre with our Associate Artist Vicki Amedume of Upswing, who led a workshop on circus skills. Possibly one of the most unlikely skill sets to teach a group of the over 60s, but they enjoyed it enormously and  a few even ended up suspended above the floor in silks.They were fully aware of the physical challenges but went for it anyway, working with Vicki to adapt the experience to their own needs.

My point is: that young people are inherently wet behind the ears and older people have probably seen it all before and once we accept these sorts of stereotypes- and perhaps even allow ourselves to play with them- that’s when creativity can really begin.  Vicki’s silks session prompted a vivid debate about body image amongst attendees, which is now having a dynamic in the artistic planning for next season’s activities. The collective and unadulterated joy of Uncover Youth Theatre members has morphed into their trademark performance style – absurd, loud and uncomfortably honest.

We’re not the only organisation recognizing and playing on the strengths that come with the age of artists – 20 Stories High in Liverpool has thrived on the energy of young people, using its regular youth theatre as the beating heart for professional productions and artistic vision. Clod Ensemble’s The Amazings has been quietly radicalising arts in residential care homes to prove that in such places do you get an unparalleled abundance of life experience and professional know-how.

So, sorry to say it, but Aaliyah was wrong. I guess only a naïve 15 year-old, railing against public disapproval of her alleged marriage to an R&B warbler 12 years her senior, would announce such a silly thing, but then get away with it for being beautiful, laissez-faire and full of promise. Bet her nan had something to say about it, though.

Raidene Carter, Head of Creative Programmes, the Albany

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One response to “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number?

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