Our new BOLD Festival celebrating arts and older people is in full swing this week, opening up dialogues about older people and daring us to think differently about ageing. As a special feature to the festival, Ira Brand brings us her own A Cure for Ageing, a performance piece that delves into numbers and the hard facts about growing older and our inevitable future. Ahead of its run this Thursday 25 to Saturday 27 September, Ira answers our questions around the show and her views on ageing:
What got you thinking about ageing?
My grandfather turned 90. He was dealing with a series of health problems, and then also moved into a care home. I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years, and the change in him was just so massive, physically and also mentally. He had stopped communicating very much. It sounds like a cliche, but it was a shock. I became fascinated by the impact that his deterioration was having on everybody around him – my grandmother most immediately, but also my mum, the way she was talking about her own ageing, the way we all spent a lot of time speculating about what he was or was not able to understand, what it was like for him to be alive. Around the same time a lot of my friends were turning thirty, and some of them were genuinely worried about age, like they should have better jobs, for example, or should be having kids. They were responding to a lot of societal pressures on them, but also coming up against their own hopes I suppose – the things they thought they would have achieved or done by that age, a feeling of leaving their youth, of running out of time. I didn’t really feel that in the same way, but I was curious, and I started to feel like ageing was still a real taboo, something we don’t talk about very often with each other.
Has there been anyone you have approached specifically to discuss ageing? A grandmother maybe?
I spoke to quite a lot of different people. Some were relatives of friends, others people who responded to a public call for participants. I met a few people through contacting local University of the Third Age groups, and also volunteered with an arts company in a care home. I also spoke with my grandmother, which was an amazing conversation. The fact that I was ‘interviewing’ her as research for the show meant that we could touch on stuff I don’t think we would have talked about otherwise. She was very forthcoming, where in other circumstances she’d shied away from talking much about herself – perhaps not wanting to be the centre of attention. There was a lot of stuff I learnt about her, not necessarily massive things, but more the small details of how she thinks about and sees the world, and I felt so honoured to have her share that stuff with me, and really pleased that the making of the show allowed that conversation to happen. Parts of that conversation are also in the show now – she’s definitely the star!
Describe your approach to researching your projects. And what was involved for A Cure for Ageing?
Initially I do a lot of reading around the subject I’m interested in. I spent quite a bit of time at the Wellcome Trust Library, for example, looking at scientific books and articles. Then, I talk to people. I conducted a series of interviews, some with people with an expertise around ageing because of their work, others with an expertise because of experience – basically, people who were older than me. I would have some specific questions but largely it was about talking about whatever those people wanted to talk about. There is often this assumption that everyone’s experience of ageing is the same, and a sort of clumping together of ‘old people’ as a group, which for me is a big part of the problem with how we view ageing and old age in our society. Ageing is such an individual experience, so I really wanted to know what was important to them about it, what they wanted to say.
What terrifies you about ageing?
That’s a hard question, because a big part of me making this show was about wanting to question this fear I felt I had about ageing, wanting to look at why – when I pictured myself in my late old age – I imagined something inevitably negative. Why didn’t I imagine myself happy and active and social? But there is of course a reality to the fact that the way we interact with and perceive (and are perceived by) the world changes as we get older, and some of those things can be negative. And I wanted to be really honest about this, rather that sugar-coat or ignore it. I think, honestly, I’m scared of what some of the physical limitations to me might be as I get older, and how I will deal with those. The idea that I might get frustrated with or feel out of touch with my own body. Also, I think I’m scared of the kind of situation my grandfather finds himself in, where he doesn’t really speak anymore, and we don’t really know what his experience of living is.
What is the real cure for ageing?
It’s a cure for how we think about ageing that I think is important, and that’s where the title of the show comes from. And that’s about talking about what it means and feels like to get older – not focusing only on the negative but also not avoiding the hard or maybe even embarrassing stuff. I also think it’s important to kind of ‘take responsibility’ for your own getting older. To learn about it, to understand that it is in your future, and that (up to a point) you can make choices about what you want that future to be like. But none of that means spending lots of time worrying about it! In terms of my own getting older, the best thing I’ve learnt from the people I met in making the show is that challenge is important – to have a life where you are constantly being challenged and problem solving and learning how to live in the world.
What age in your life have you most enjoyed so far?
I would say my late twenties to now (I’m 31). That’s a lot to do with that fact that I have found something I love doing, and am (more or less) getting to spend my time doing it. I also feel like I’m part of a really great community – friends, family, work colleagues – and that helps me feel happier and more confident than ten years ago. A lot of the people I spoke to talked about feeling more comfortable in themselves as they got older, maybe more accepting of who they were. I’ve definitely felt that in the last few years, and I think more of that is a brilliant thing to look forward to.
What do you hope to be doing at the age of 80?
Dancing in my kitchen, like my grandmother.
Ira Brand performs in A Cure for Ageing on Thursday 25 & Friday 26 September at 7.45pm and Saturday 27 September at 5pm. For information and to book, click here.
BOLD Festival runs until this Saturday 27 September with a provocative programme of performances, exhibitions and film with older people at its heart. For the full line-up of events, click here.