Tony Ryan is a radio producer, formerly of ABC, retired and now running a podcast series called Creative Male Ageing. The concept is simple: it’s about growing older from a man’s perspective.
There are all kinds of stats which show that men in later life can feel more isolated than women, and also that many activity programmes for seniors are not targeted at men. The podcasts interview academics, doctors and professionals of all kinds, as well as older men, discussing hot topics in health and new projects.
I met Tony and his colleague John McGowan to hear more about their experiences as older men, and the documentaries, radio and oral history projects they have both produced over the years. I admit I might have been stretching my concept of literary activity with this, but as I am interested in all kinds of written and spoken word projects produced by and with older people, this still slots in neatly.
We spoke about the role of producer as a facilitator of other people’s stories. While Tony and John selected the participants to be interviewed, and created the right environment for the discussions to take place, they aim to remove their own perspectives, in order for the other people to be heard. Of course, this is tough. Impossible, perhaps. We can’t eradicate ourselves entirely, but the intention is genuine. For one of John’s projects, he interviewed a range of Australians and took out his own voice in the final cut.
This is the crux of the research. In a project which does not intend to be interpretative or representative or responding to the context – that is, if the artist is not being asked to create new work – how do we define the role? If an artist is a facilitator and a conduit for the stories of others, how best can they represent them? Can they? Should they? Does it matter?
The funding for some of this work came from the South Australia Office for Ageing, which is a good reminder of the opportunity to seek support from outside the arts for creative projects with social inclusion aims.
One other thought. Tony quoted a man at a workshop he ran for older men, who said, “Everything I’ve done since retirement has been Mickey Mouse.” Poignant. That sense of purpose is lost after work comes to an end. This led us to talk about Men in Sheds – spots for older men to get together and make things – which began in Australia. It’s really big, with funding offered direct from the government. What it offers is the chance for older men to engage in good work, building and restoring furniture, bikes, toys, that kind of thing. The idea is that men thrive by being shoulder to shoulder, working, rather than face to face. Again, there are so many ways to engage older people in meaningful projects, and it isn’t the case that one size fits all.