This month we spoke to Louise Flooks, Participation Coordinator at Unity Theatre, about what events they programme for older people and how they engage with their older audiences.
Unity Theatre has a really varied programme of performances and events that aim to appeal to all ages. We specifically programme productions that embrace and reflect the lives and the challenges faced by our older audiences – we think it is important to make sure that the whole of our audience can see themselves reflected on stage. We live in a time where we have an increasingly ageing population – the definition of what age you have to reach to be considered ‘older’ has changed so much over the last two decades. Unity Theatre has to stay in touch with all our communities and celebrate this diversity.
We find that the events that work the best are those that bring generations together; our Christmas show is a great example of this, where whole families get together for a special festive time out. When we have a family show, we always have activities going on before and sometimes after the show – sometimes just colouring, sometimes craft making, and it is a joy to see the oldest and the youngest getting creative together.
We have a fully accessible venue with an integrated loop system, wheelchair friendly bars and auditoriums and lift access to each floor. We are proud of the work we have done so far to make the venue accessible but there is always more work to do! The whole industry is switching on to this and increasingly theatre companies are creating work that has accessibility built into the show, for example using captioning and audio description as part of the visuals.
Taking these measures ensures we nurture a broad and informed perspective when choosing the productions and events that go on but most importantly for us, it ensures we maintain a venue that is truly welcoming to the whole community. A visit to the theatre has so many benefits for our overall well-being; it is an excellent way to stay connected to the communities around us, to explore the challenges all of us experience in life and make sense of our emotions.
We have been able to reach older audiences and participants by making sure the timing of events works well for them, for example, thinking about what time performances take place.
A significant percentage of our front of house volunteers are part of our older community. It is an excellent way for people of any age to socialise, enjoy the opportunity to watch a range of performances for free, while providing a valuable and enriching role as part of the theatre team. Quite simply, we couldn’t run the theatre without them!