Nir Paldi, co-artistic director of Ad Infinitum, talks about three projects working with older people.
You have three projects at the moment that focus on older people, what’s inspired this focus?
I’ve been thinking about how we care for our elders ever since my four grandparents started reaching the final stages of their lives. It didn’t just ‘happen’, instead it was a very complex process. It was fraught with emotions and different opinions – from my grandparents, my parents who took care of them, other family members, myself – about what the best thing to do would be, and how could we best take care of them as they reach the autumn of their lives? Would it be best to move closer to them so we can visit regularly? To have them move in with my parents? To move them into a care home that allowed for independent living but also transitioned to more dependent care if they were to deteriorate? Have professional care for them at home? The discussions were painful and difficult for all involved. And I keep feeling that there isn’t a good solution for this. How can you make the last part of our lives a meaningful and enjoyable experience?
When the pandemic struck last year and we began to learn about the vulnerabilities in our elderly care system, it made me think very seriously about the provisions we have in place, whether they are good enough, the people who go above and beyond, and also the many incidences of neglect…it feels like something we could all benefit from thinking about more. And the system itself, after the last 11 years of austerity and funding cuts doesn’t feel like it’s fit for purpose. So inspiration for The Long Lie (TLL) (working title) really grew out of these thoughts and experiences…
Your podcast Home from Home has just completed a second series, where did it start?
We have always rigorously researched every Ad Infinitum production, and along with that, woven into the creative process, is a way of engaging with our audiences, communities and artists outside of, but alongside the productions we make. This happens in many different ways – workshops, gathering stories, teaming up with academics, commissioning lectures, and so much more. Over the last 14 years the research and the engagement work has become not only integral to the way we make theatre, but also much more closely linked. We make work collaboratively: devising theatre with many great minds in our rehearsal room – everyone has a voice, so it felt natural to us to make space for other artists to go on journeys of their own to explore themes that the company is examining – and that their work could feed into and contribute to forthcoming productions.
With Covid-19 bringing the theatre industry to a halt, we also wanted to find new ways to support our network of amazing freelance artists. For a time, working digitally felt like the only way we could guarantee work could go ahead and be shared – so we threw ourselves into short film making, podcasts, visual arts – and commissioned artists new and well-known to AI during the last year. The results were really exciting. One beautiful outcome was our new podcast series – Home from Home: Journeys into Elderly Care. Produced by Keziah Wenham-Kenyon, Season 2 takes a closer look into care, from perspectives that are underrepresented and intersections that require more compassion-led, people-focused support than traditional forms of care are currently providing. Episode 1 explores experiences of older people in the Caribbean community, Episode 2 looks at the LGBTQ+ experience, and Episode 3 focuses on alternative models of care for people living with dementia. You can listen to the podcast on our website here.
What made you commission a second series and will there be a third?
The first series, made by Jennifer Bell, opened up a vast amount of stories, experiences and areas of possible research – it was overwhelming. Jennifer created a very moving and in-depth series, but having done a call-out for stories and received so many, we knew that was just the tip of the iceberg – and that there could easily be many more episodes. In addition to this, when we recruited Jennifer we had many, many applications and met so many talented podcast makers – the potential for different artists to take this podcast in multiple directions, to focus on different aspects of the care system and create a rich and diverse series of podcasts was clear. So it became part of our funding bids throughout the last year…we can’t say for sure if there will be a third series but we would love to try and make it happen. Watch this space.
Your ongoing project A New Constellation works to empower older people to create art, do you think art takes on a new meaning as you get older?
I think art takes on new meaning with each person who goes on a journey to create something – what felt important about reaching older people was the lack of representation in our society, and how little we hear from and see older people. We were struck by how empowered already our older collaborators were and felt empowered ourselves and humbled by people’s life experience and wisdom. Something about the way we live can easily silence older voices and at the same time, the pandemic was highlighting issues around isolation, lack of provision, care and so on that were more extreme for older adults.
In December, myself and co-director George Mann were walking and feeling like we needed to ‘do something’ – art is such a powerful way for people to express themselves, work through emotions, create empathy and understanding – so we set about to work with older adults, collaborate with local charities, and to go on a journey…the results were really beautiful and I think the experience was meaningful for everyone involved. Now we’re wondering what to do next, it seems a shame for this project to be a one off…
What’s struck you most about what’s been created so far?
How important art is to every one of us – it’s a cliche, but we really did realise how important the arts, theatre, and creativity were when it was no longer possible to do them in the way we could prior to the pandemic. It’s one of the reasons we were so surprised to see the funding of arts subjects in education being cut – after what we’ve all been through you’d think it would be crystal clear how crucial the arts are in all our lives.
What can you tell us about your upcoming R&D?
We are just getting into the casting for the R&D of our next production, The Long Lie (working title). We’ve had a fantastic, diverse response to our call out and we can’t wait to get into a rehearsal room again!
Using physical storytelling and acapella song, The Long Lie will explore how society and us as individuals care for older people. We will be looking into the various layers of the elderly care system in the UK, including care given at home by family members and more widely. We will look at the challenges for older people and their families from different cultures, and also the challenges experienced by carers.