The voice of a 70-year-old carries the experience of ageing alone into the minds of the public. By Dallas Bastian.
Members of the public get a fly-on-the-wall look at what it’s like for older people living alone in their homes, through a new audio work.
The site-specific audio theatre presentation HOME involved members of the public walking through a stranger’s house one at a time. Upon arrival, audience members were given headphones and let themselves in with a spare key hidden under the doormat.
Participants got the chance to explore the rooms of a person’s home in Kensington, Melbourne, and discover knickknacks, chewed dog toys and other hints of the resident’s private world.
A personal audio story made from edited interviews with an elderly woman played as those involved walked through the home.
Creator Brienna Macnish was interested in presenting the work because, she says, there isn’t enough public conversation happening about ageing, quality of life and quality of death. “With an ageing population, these are conversations that people, young and old alike, should be having in the public arena,” she says.
Macnish’s interest came from watching her grandparents move into a nursing home in the final years of their lives.
“It was a challenging time for my grandparents and family, as it is for most people who have to make the decision to move into a supported-living context,” she says. “What struck me most about this time was how my family didn’t really talk with my grandparents about what it meant to move out of their home.”
Macnish started asking people in the community questions about their home lives and plans for the future.
“I hope that HOME inspired some conversations within families about their personal situation, and among friends about what we, as a society more broadly, should be doing to ensure that we are able to grow old in the way we aspire to as empowered individuals with access to services, community, culture and dignity,” she says.
Macnish says she was “absolutely blown away” by the audience response. “Many people were moved to tears by the work, as it touches upon issues and themes that were pertinent to so many of our audience members’ own lives,” she says.
HOME was made up of a series of interviews with Marian Neal, a 70-year-old still living independently in her home in the community. It aimed to prompt audiences to consider what it means to be living alone in the community once loved ones are gone.
“It was a bit daunting to share my life with the general public but Brie always made me feel comfortable and was very careful to respect my privacy,” Neal says of the experience. “For me, the audio theatre production was an opportunity to air my views on the age and ageing problems experienced by all of us.”
Neal’s husband passed away in 2006 after 10 years of failing health. Prior to his death, she decided to study something that would create continuity in her life and took up cello lessons.
Neal now plays in a U3A City of Melbourne music ensemble each week and has also joined the Hawthorn U3A Orchestra.
She says she would like to stay in her own home for as long as possible, but adds, “I can recognise and am prepared to deal with the fact that I may one day have to make certain decisions that prevent me from staying in my home until the end.”
Neal says the prospect of leaving one’s home to be looked after within an aged-care facility can be daunting. “I decided quite a long time ago that if I ever found that I could no longer manage the house, I would arrange to move into perhaps a serviced apartment in a retirement village where at least nursing care would be available,” she says.
Whilst Neal initially assumed she would move into supported living around the age of 75, she says she is still healthy at 70 and will probably be closer to 80 before she has to consider such a decision.
“I also know that I can get help in the home so that I can stay for as long as possible and am prepared to arrange this help if necessary,” she adds. “I am quite prepared in my mind that I may one day have to go into care.”
Within the audio recording, Neal says: “I’m lucky; if I really get stuck, I’ve got the girls. I don’t want to live with them necessarily; they need their own space, they need to be able to do what I do. They need to have that freedom once their children are gone, they need to be able to travel, they don’t need an ageing mother to care for – that’s my view not theirs.
Neal says she hears too often that children feel they’ve had to put their parent into a nursing home because they couldn’t cope at home any longer.
“A lot of people fight this decision and are miserable because of it, and create a lot of guilt for the children who are trying to do their best for their parents,” she says. “I hope to be able to make that decision myself and not fight it when that time comes.”
Neal says she thoroughly enjoyed the project and working with Macnish and was very pleased by the public’s reaction.
HOME ran from May 1 to 11 as part of the Next Wave Festival, which involves emerging and experimental arts practice. The creation of the work was assisted by the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body, The Australia Council.Do you have an idea for a story?
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