Autumn 2017 was the beginning of the second part in the Passing the Baton project by Wyldwood Arts (you can read Wyldwood’s previous blog about this show here). Instead of being a brass fueled, story-driven show, it was an intergenerational project between primary schools and care homes in the Forest, with it’s own story to tell.
It was the story of 116 people: 66 children from the 3 different schools, 50 older adults, plus a couple of grandparents, 16 staff, carers, parents and a whole host of other children who came to watch the final celebration too.
I came on board, having been a performer in the touring show Passing the Baton, and was invited to work in my other professional realm of leading theatre workshops within communities. As part of the intergenerational project, myself and the other practitioners leading on the project (Chez Dunford, Josie Rogerson and Rachel Adams) aimed to explore the themes from Passing the Baton, including stories from the Forest of Dean, passing ‘batons’ (whether literal or metaphorical), and most importantly, connection.
This was my first experience of leading an intergenerational project with a primary school and a care home. It was hard to know whether any of my material would work with them. For the most part, I design and deliver workshops for one specific age group and every exercise is specifically tailored for the energy of the group and what they need. With this project, I was aware that I’d be working with two totally different energy groups in one room; primary school children with the energy of bouncy balls careering off every wall (if not physically, then in their minds with ideas and curiosities). The energy of the residents of the care home, which for me, I experience as having the energy of a large flowing river – weighty, with a lifetime of experiences, toils and joy, and in no rush to discover as fast as they can (like that of the Primary age).
It intrigued me to find out where these two energies would meet and what would happen when they came together in the room. They both seemed to have an incredible effect on one another. The curiosity of the older adults seemed to be sparked by the presence of the primary school children, whilst the pupils appeared to begin to breathe a little deeper and relax (which in turn enlivened their wonder for these new friends they’d met).
Despite exploring the other themes of the show, it was the theme of connection that resonated loudest throughout this project. Each week, we would begin by shaking hands with each other, looking into the eyes of our friends and saying ‘hello’. It is this moment, when we meet eyes with another human, where we look beyond the ‘other’ and begin to see ourselves in this human before us, where we see the similarities, differences, and what parts of you connect.
I guess for me, the most powerful part of these sessions were when we were all just chatting. Sitting down beside one another and being intrigued by this other human. This is when room came alive – a bubbling pot of intrigue, empathy and laughter.
We culminated the project with a final celebration at Westbury-on-Severn Parish Hall, where all of the schools and residents from the project came together to share in a feast of cakes, tea, human fact bingo and celebrating of all the lovely things we’d created with each other along the way.
There were collaged flags, dance routines, poems, real-life stories brought to life, and songs a-plenty complete with copious amounts of bubbles drifting through the room riding on sweet lyrics over the harmonic tones of an accordion.
It was wonderful to see how each group had connected through the different art forms – visual art, music and drama. Even though the celebration was the climax of the project, it was clear from the joy in the room that day, that the process had deep impact for all of the participants.
Many of the participants from the school I worked with came out of the first session in the care home surprised at how much they had relaxed and enjoyed meeting their new friends. For some of them, it was a hugely brave venture even stepping into the care home; having had family members in the very care home we were visiting (with this being the last place they saw them).
There was a lot of nerves, but they were admirably open about these and made sure they gave themselves space to feel whatever emotions came up – something I think is incredibly commendable to be able to do at this age. I suppose there was something I learnt from working with this group about stepping out into waters unfamiliar and giving them a go despite your fears, because when you overcome them, that’s when the magic happens.
The boundary pushing didn’t stop there. After the final celebration, Chris Forster, teacher at Pillowell, said: ‘For a lot of children yesterday from our school, they achieved things that they didn’t feel would be possible at the start of the day, a lot of children were slightly anxious about performing on stage to a big audience and what they have achieved has been a huge milestone!’
I too had been nervous about delivering on this project, having not done one quite like this before. Yet now, I feel enlivened, inspired and energised having taken the risk. I only have the 116 people involved in the project to thank for that; for being open, generous, and most of all, for taking the risk themselves. It is a risk to connect, especially with those that you may not naturally think to connect with. But it’s what is required, if we are ever to grow and to enjoy life as humans alongside one another. 🙂
Written by Katie Storer. Katie is a performer, facilitator and practitioner. Katie performed in Wyldwood Arts’s summer tour of Passing the Baton.
Photo credits: Camilla Adams