A Leeds performance company is breathing older life into new productions

One thousand people performing, 16 double decker buses and five set locations - this is not your usual idea of theatre, but then this is not your usual theatre company.
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The Performance Ensemble is a company made up of Leeds based performers who are aged 60 and beyond, from a range of performing backgrounds, skills and cultures and from professional to amateur status.

But, they are taking the idea of performance out of the norm and tradition and creating post-modern work that celebrates life of a certain age.

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Previous projects have included 'Bed' where performers in their 70s and 80s appeared in beds in various public city centre locations, sharing personal stories with passers-by who stopped to talk with the aim of encouraging people to consider the invisibility older people feel when going about their lives in public places and stories that go unheard and ‘Bus Ride’ where 300 older people, who usually live by themselves, were accompanied on a bus journey.

Alan Lyddiard from the Performance Ensemble.Alan Lyddiard from the Performance Ensemble.
Alan Lyddiard from the Performance Ensemble.

And in keeping with taking theatre and art into the heart of the city's communities, Performance Ensemble's next project is going big. Bus Pass has been in the making for the last few years and not even Brexit will stop it.

Alan Lyddiard is the artistic director at Performance Ensemble and, at 72 years young, is thriving on the value that creativity can bring to people's lives.

He said: "I am 72 and starting a new venture and making this work with people of a similar age, that is an incredibly energising and exciting process to go through."

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Bus Pass was an idea pitched as part of Leeds' bid to gain status as the European Capital of Culture 2023 but with the UK's departure from the EU halting the bid, Performance Ensemble is pursuing the project regardless.

Bed, was a project performed at public places around the city.Bed, was a project performed at public places around the city.
Bed, was a project performed at public places around the city.

In August 2023, 16 double-decker buses will travel to five different locations covering north, south, east and west Leeds where audiences will see performance events by the canal, for example, or in an underpass or a housing estate or the bus station. On the buses, ticket holders sit next to an older performer guiding them across the city with stories of Leeds with a view to consider what it means to age in the 21st century.

Mr Lyddiard said: "There are 150,000 older people in Leeds and a lot are stuck at home and are very isolated and lonely. We want to bring them into the spirit of the city and the idea of being in a city that is working to engage the whole population in being creative. Everybody is creative, everybody is an artist in their own way and we want to bring these people together to help them tell their story to the world.

"Many people have grown in confidence doing this. They feel better about themselves, and the world, by being involved in creative activity. To be creative is life-changing. We have one lady who ran a Chinese take-away for 30 years and hardly spoke any English because she was isolated in her restaurant and talked 'number 23 and fried rice'. She did not meet people, she served people.

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"But now she is a really central figure and tells stories about her journey from Hong Kong to Leeds, how he made a life for herself in this country and how she has been helped and respected. It is a beautiful story. I tell you this one but there are literally hundreds."

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