Strategic outcomes of theatre against ageism

cartoon showing five distinctive, lively old people
The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People

We’re in the throes of applying for funding to produce a powerful new play that combats ageism. Measuring creative outcomes is easy. Community outcomes, not so much.

Donors frequently ask questions like this:

  1. What strategic outcomes do you aim to achieve?
  2. How will your project achieve them?
  3. (implied) How will you measure these outcomes?

We have both a creative outcome and a community outcome in mind.

Creative outcome: easy to measure

The creative outcome of my play The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People is easy to explain.

  1. Strategic outcome? We will create an extraordinary theatrical work.
  2. How to achieve it? We’ll develop a great script through readings and workshops, with the help of Playmarket funding and dramaturg. We’ll transform the script into an exciting, entertaining and challenging theatrical experience, with outstanding actors, designers, director, and other theatre practitioners. We will present the work to the public for three weeks at the end of 2023.
  3. How to measure it? Through ticket sales, reviews, and requests for repeat productions.

Community outcome: hard to measure

Let me describe the community outcome that I’m hoping for.

  1. Strategic outcome? Big picture: to raise the resilience, well-being and health of New Zealanders in old age. We want audience members to experience an aha! moment, to understand that old age is not automatically something to fear or submit to passively, but a stage of life over which you have some control, a time that has its own unexpected joys. And in future, act accordingly.
  2. How to achieve that? By showing characters based on real nonagenarians whose lives are unexpectedly satisfying. Yes, they all experience pain and illness and tragedy: yet they are thriving and glad to be alive.
  3. How to measure the outcome? Impossible, apart from personal feedback and articles such as this one: Learning How To Be Old.

How theatre against ageism can hit the spot

In her fascinating article, Melody Thomas spells out exactly how older role models on stage can turn ageist attitudes upside down. Of course she’s not writing about my new play, The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People, because that’s still in development. But she is writing about a theatre piece against ageism, one with my words from the poetry collection, How To Be Old. It’s written and presented by me, and the fundamental idea is the same in both works: old age is not a punishment but a reward for living a long time.

When a brilliant journalist writes about a personal experience, you always know that they are not the only ones who have had that same experience. That’s the strength of a personal opinion column like Unchained Melody.

If anyone can think of a scientifically and statistically sound way to measure the desired community outcome of theatre against ageism, please tell me! It might make our fund-raising efforts a little easier. And give theatre against ageism a boost.

Do read Melody Thomas’s article about me and my white-haired dancers: it’s terrific. (And it’s a beautiful example of journalism against ageism.)

More about 90 Plus: theatre challenging ageism

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19 thoughts on “Strategic outcomes of theatre against ageism

  1. Exciting and wishing you success with your grant application. It’s such a great idea and you have a proven track record of delivering.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You are such a staunch supporter of writers, Maggie. Thank you โ€” everyone needs luck in these times .

  2. You could be up against ageism in your grant application! Perhaps a way to measure the desired community outcome is to use something like the applause meter they have on quiz shows. Clap if you feel negative about ageing, then clap if you feel positive about ageing. You could do this at the start of the show and again at the end to see if it has changed.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That is very clever!

      1. Yes it is, and audiences do tend to want to help in such circumstances!

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        I will keep thinking about this.

  3. Mick Canning says:

    One way to measure outcome might be an increase in activities in which nonagenarians take part.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Ah, but itโ€™s their children And grandchildren we are trying to influence ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Mick Canning says:

        Hmm. A bit harder.

  4. A fine piece – the drawing sums it up very well

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thank you, Derrick.

  5. Paul says:

    Here are a couple of leads with respect to measuring the effectiveness of a theater production ( and tips for composing an effective survey to measure, in your case, “the desired community outcome” ( I hope you’ll find these sources useful. Good luck!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks, Paul. Very helpful and timely advice. I never thought of something as simple as a questionnaire. Gut reaction: There are only two questions I want to ask. (To be carefully tested and radically rephrased, of course.) 1: How has this play changed your attitude towards extreme old age? (From not at all to a lot.) 2. How llikely are you to change an aspect of your own life style as a result? The way the questions are presented is crucial. I would hate to destroy the mood!

  6. Melody Thomas’s article is superb. She should be made an honorary old person for the period of the performances! (that makes me wonder whether a few 6,7, or 8 year olds could too?)

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Melody has given me some insights into my target audience. For example: if you dread becoming invisible, start spotting invisible people.

  7. Lois Roelofs says:

    An idea for an evaluation of immediate outcomes–one of the small local theater productions I attended passed out a one column-sized evaluation page when we entered and asked us to fill it out at the end of the show, and then ushers took them from us as we exited. The pro of this is we knew what were supposed to watch for while we watched the show and were alerted to think about applications we may see for our own lives, and, therefore, our evaluation would be fresh in our minds. So our evaluations gave them written data that could be used for statistical analysis. Best wishes with this project.

  8. judithhb says:

    Thanks Rachel, do hope you are successful because along with you, Iโ€™m celebrating being old. Yours was the first email I opened today and I have used it on my blog.

  9. Suzanne says:

    All the very best, Rachel. I am sure it will be well received.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Suzanne!

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