Why do the older and younger generations assume they have little in common? Here, a young theatremaker in Leeds writes first hand how working together can be an invaluable experience.

Currently, it seems like the old are pitted against the young. All over the media, particularly in regards to Brexit, we’re being told the under 25s are opposed to the over 50s and those left in the middle need to pick a side.

I’ve seen this recently in theatre too, young people creating work that criticises the older generation for ‘deciding on a future that they won’t be here for.’ It has led me to question, how much impact is the media’s great ‘generational war’ really having?

I’m working on a new devised show at Leeds Playhouse, called Dinner 18:55. It’s a project with an intergenerational cast, telling stories of mealtimes, social politics and age specific experiences. This is the first time I’ve worked on an intergenerational project like this, and it’s been eye-opening in a number of different ways.

At the start of the rehearsal process I was certain combining older and younger performers wouldn’t work. My naive brain assumed that the old and young could never devise a cohesive piece of theatre, the ideas would be too different, the opinions would clash and physical ability would limit the piece’s potential.

Of course I was wrong. Not one of those things are true. The older people I’ve worked with have been nothing but amazing and inspirational, and each of the cast has been able to add that unique, personal perspective that I think is really key to brilliant theatre. Plus, we even managed to discuss Brexit without falling out.

Stan Owens in rehearsal. Photography by Nick Singleton

The whole experience has led me to really reflect on what makes art great and valuable. For me, it’s all about perspective. At its core it’s a mesh of different ideas each adding to the final product and age has been a brilliant way of gaining a different insight and value, bringing experiences from different societies, cultures and experiences, and dramatic differences in outlook. It feels fresh and transformative, giving everyone a voice and, the ‘generational war’ doesn’t have a single role to play in our rehearsal room.

Here in Leeds, I’m part of Leeds Young Authors, a group for poets and spoken word artists led by the brilliant Khadijah Ibrahim. I always viewed Khadijah as the group leader, in a position of authority, helping and guiding. I now realise Khadijah is all of that to me and more. She’s helped me find my own writing style, developed the way I see theatre and literature, and given me real confidence in myself. I thought our relationship was older versus younger, teacher versus student. I now realise our relationship is most certainly collaborative. By working with her she’s helped me find my artistic voice, and work with other young people to create a strong collective voice.

The old and the young, the experienced and the new, isn’t the combination of all these perspectives rich and exciting?

Our rehearsal room, filled with cups of tea, drama games, new found friendships and different perspectives has filled me with new inspiration. I have so many new ideas I’d like to explore with older generations, generate more intergenerational collaboration. It can only make for richer, exciting work.  

For more information on Dinner 18:55, visit the Leeds Playhouse website.