Dr Heather Lilley writes:
When Pam and I first discussed housing the Reminiscence Theatre Archive within the Drama Programme at Greenwich we shared an aspiration to reuse the archived materials for their original purposes: making new theatre for and with the local community; and creating events, exhibitions and published materials to share the unique personal perspectives of its contributors. It was clear to me that the archive, and the opportunity to engage in a long-term collaboration with Pam, would be of great benefit to our students and would significantly enhance our relationships with the local community. We had a vision of a dedicated troupe of student volunteers touring local sheltered housing units performing their own freshly devised productions and leading reminiscence sessions with the elderly audiences.
In 2011 we made this vision a reality through the creation of RTA – The Reminiscence Theatre Archive Company – that provides a sustainable model of reminiscence theatre practice and intergenerational exchange.
Forming the Company
All of the Drama students at Greenwich undertake a year-long module on Applied Theatre, which introduces to them to a wide range of practical and critical approaches to making theatre with and for different communities and marginalised groups. This is our students’ first encounter with reminiscence theatre and Pam Schweitzer’s methodology; and through this taster they decide whether to volunteer for RTA.
The RTA Process
The student volunteers who join RTA gain a wealth of experience for their future careers and are engaged in all aspects of the company’s work. They begin by exploring the archives; they select material that inspires them, enhance their knowledge through historical research and devise performances that will bring the memories to life for new audiences. In rehearsal the student volunteers work creatively with Pam and I, and also alone, often with a student taking some responsibility for directing the piece. Once a new play, or collection of plays, has been devised we schedule a tour of local sheltered housing units, and other performance opportunities within and outside the University.
Producing the Tour
In order to maximise student involvement in the company we have created a Producer role, which allows a volunteer to gain experience of organising the company, booking shows into venues and transporting costumes and props.
Performing and Reminiscing
RTA perform their plays in Sheltered Housing Units across Greenwich and Woolwich. Plays are performed in the Unit’s social spaces, often with audience interaction and always interspersed with reminiscing. The Producer facilitates the event along with Pam Schweitzer or myself, leading the performers and audience members through both formal and informal discussion of the plays, the archive materials on which they are based, and also the audience’s memories that are brought vividly back to them by watching the show. RTA always make time to enjoy a cup of tea with the audience and often incorporate the audience’s suggestions and memories into future versions of the plays.