How it all began…
Following an open invitation in 2015 from Cerin Richardson, the Festival Theatre’s then Learning and Participation Manager, requesting artists to contribute to their newly developed (and continuing) programme of performance-orientated arts which involve people living with dementia, dance artist Janice Parker was given the opportunity to create something new. She inherently wanted to develop something different, not to replicate an existing formula, but to offer a fresh and unique opportunity. This freedom in creativity enabled Janice to cast as wide a net as possible, incorporating two mediums she adores, Dance & her love of Variety Theatre.
Finding what she suspected was an inauspicious place to think, the Festival Theatre’s Empire Rooms, Janice would greet the various members of staff who were passing through. Gradually, the walls of the room would enamour her with the very idea which had been crying out for a revival. Surrounded by playbills, promo shots and photographs of the shows and performers who had once trodden across the then Empire Theatre’s stage, the foundations of the theatre’s variety history, an idea began to mull. That to this day, we exist in the flowing motions of those dancers, entertainers and pioneers before us who built these stages, whose memories still illuminate the theatre’s history, the shoulders we stand on – these were the people Janice would reach out to.
With the support of Paul Hudson (now Paul Matthews) a call went across Edinburgh looking for performers who at one time or another had performed on the stage of the Empire Theatre. It took time, and time is all that was required for the right people to express an interest in the meeting with Janice at the Theatre. To begin, in March 2016, June Don Murray’s sister Sylvia got in touch, the following April, Marie Duthie, née Pyper voiced an interest’ in the project. Janice then invited young dancer Katie Miller to join the troupe, and always a woman in the know, June would later introduce Janice to Doreen Ward, née Leighton, who joined the ranks in October of that year, and then in 2018, the women were listening to a feature on The Janice Forsyth Show on BBC Radio Scotland which starred Betty Clarkson, prompting Doreen to send an invitation to Betty inviting her to join the troupe.
The only ‘D’ word here, is Dance
Despite the origins of An Audience With… emerging from the Festival Theatre’s Living with Dementia Programme, the key objective was never to reminiscence. The women involved were not all living with dementia, nor did they or their families identify as such. What began originally as an engagement project, evolved into an intergenerational, long-term on-going practice, that collected information, histories and craft, shared skills and knowledge and reached out to others who deserved a place in the spotlight.
We dance, and this is what we stand for. Soaking in the culture & history of this industry, An Audience With… looks to the future and to a new generation of performers who continue the work that June, Doreen, Marie & Betty pioneered.
What we’re all about
In our four years of working together we performed two live shows, made a film, published a book, recorded podcasts, led workshops, taught classes, hosted events and discussions and now, have created this website, a digital home for our collection of photos and memorabilia, our knowledge and history, and testament to our responsive and open-ended way of working together with equality of agency and autonomy flowing between us.
We met regularly and weekly, to dance, talk about dance, share practice and ways of dancing then and now. We talked about the past, and the present, and how we might contribute to the future. We documented as much as possible, both material and memory, in the body and on the page; and we captured as much of our histories, stories, craft, skills and knowledge as we could manage. We discussed society’s and our own expectations of older dancers, what it feels like to be one, how an older dances differently now, and what value that continues to contribute to teaching and performing. We talked a lot, laughed a lot and danced a lot.
Our quiet radical act was always to continue with our work together for as long as the spirit was willing, keeping going for as long as the women wanted. In early March 2020 we had many plans, even though we had lost our founding member June Don Murray. The last diary entry was the last time we met together pre-Covid and global pandemic. Of course, as with most of us, we didn’t know that at the time. In the intervening months, during the Covid lockdown we sadly lost both Betty Clarkson and Doreen Leighton-Ward. And of course, Katie, Marie and Janice have not been able to meet together or work online. At the time of launching the web-site we don’t know what the future holds and felt right to share the story so far….
There is of course still much missing. Notebooks of scribbled handwritten notes of names, performances and half a story, all waiting to be followed up with detail and delight. Perhaps it is always so, that it is never possible to collect and document everything. But we came this far and are very glad that we did.
An Audience With… advocates for the contributions of older performers, living with and without dementia. We want to contribute to the current climate and attitudes towards dance by placing centre stage those dancers who have an untapped history and who continue to deserve a place in the spotlight. We want to open this world of dance and the spirits of these women to as many people as are interested. Designed to tell the stories of the four women this website is a testament to their contribution, passion, skills, knowledge and love of life and dance.
Janice & Katie
An award-winning independent dancer and choreographer, based in Edinburgh, Janice Parker is also the artistic director of Janice Parker Projects (JPP). She works locally, nationally and internationally conceiving, creating and supporting collaborative performance projects with people of all ages and abilities.
Beyond this, she works to develop different art-forms, both small and large-scale productions, films, movement pieces, installations and site-based choreography; and is actively engaged in mentoring and nurturing artists, and organisations in supporting future generations of dancer-creatives.
Janice is a solid believer in the contribution of diverse voices, body types and backgrounds to dance as an art-form and works to promote and sustain new practices that empower people and their communities.
For more information see: www.janiceparker.co.uk
Katie Miller is a dancer, and dance teacher from Glasgow. She trained at the Dance School of Scotland, after becoming a Scottish Ballet Junior Associate there. Katie also went on to train with Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance.
Katie began a partnership with Janice Parker Projects in 2016 as a Dance Artist in Residence, utilising her experience with and learning from the other dancers.
A Special Thank You…
An Audience With… wouldn’t be here without a tremendous amount of support, passion, and love from a wide circle of colleagues, friends, funders, and supporters. Please follow the link below to find our Acknowledgement and share in thanking the people who valued the careers of these women and a love of Variety Theatre.
We would kindly ask that no aspects, images or quotes of this website be used without permission. If you’re interested in discussing a request for reference, please use the contact section of the web-site.