Nicola Pauling, Artistic Director of Voice Arts, is passionate about her work, which encourages people to play, to connect and to create; to discover their voice and to tell their own stories. Often these are people who feel they no longer have a voice in the community.
Nicola cites new research on loneliness amongst older people as one of the catalysts for her establishing a unique programme expressly intended for older people. Using the tools of adaptive improvisation and applied theatre the programme creates social connections and fosters emotional wellbeing.
She has visited the United States of America and the United Kingdom to observe similar programmes and brings international research into her work.
The Third Act programme has been established as a pilot in Ryman Healthcare’s Wellington villages where groups of residents meet weekly to play, to perform, to share their stories and to connect with fellow residents.
This is a New Zealand first, creating a theatre collective consisting solely of those over the age of 70.
It’s a joyful, playful place, where residents get to know each other and develop, with the opportunity to be courageous and step into new roles. There are also a lot of meaningful conversations.
The groups start with a “check in” where participants can talk about their week and how they are, emotionally and physically.
Everything is resident led, so only those who want to share do, but it provides an intimate way to get to know other residents in a space that they don’t share elsewhere. “It’s social connection,” says Nicola, “It provides depth to a relationship in a unique, deeply joyful and playful way.”
Nicola believes development is a life-long journey. “Adaptive improvisation and applied theatre are developmental tools. Everyone can be developed. It does not stop when we are 20 or 30.
We are honouring the wisdom that comes with age. The wisdom that you don’t get through any other practice other than being in this world for a very long time. Acknowledging the stories, the experience and the wisdom that sits in the room with us, we play with these wonderful stories.
It challenges us in a way other activities don’t.
We are asking the participants to not just look back and reflect on their lives, but to look forward; for themselves and their children and grandchildren – for the Earth. What do they see in the future and what do we need? What is missing?
Our goal is to create an inter-generational space to perform on stage in front of the public, potentially alongside teenagers. To create an incredible story and showcase it.”
A core group of the residents are keen to proceed with this goal and have their production ready for the New Zealand Fringe Festival in Wellington early next year.
Currently there are around 50 Ryman participants in the Wellington pilot programme, which equates to 400 years’ worth of wisdom and experience!
These residents have embraced the programme and look forward to the weekly meet-ups as a time to foster relationships with other residents in a way that is completely different to anything else they do, and to nurture their own spirit and personality through the courage of stepping outside their comfort zone.
That 90 minutes a week of interaction and play follows the participants through their day-to-day lives and develops their confidence as individuals who have a voice.