‘Widows - More than a Dead Man’s Wife’ – where art meets research
Alan Hopgood, one of Australia’s leading playwrights has teamed up with Monash University’s Healthy Ageing Research Unit researcher Dr Susan Feldman and they have written a new play ‘Wicked Widows - More than a Dead Man’s Wife’ which was performed in a number of locations throughout Melbourne and rural Victoria during the October 2007 Victorian Seniors Festival.
The play is based on Dr Feldman’s research into the experiences of widowhood for older Australian women and the script comes from qualitative interviews and research conducted in the course of Susan’s PhD research. It stared three of Melbourne’s favourite actors – Babs McMillan, Margot Knight and Kirsty Child.
Susan said: “This is an important health and social issue – 80 per cent of women over the age of 85 are widows – it affects all generations.”
She is excited at using the power of the theatre to explore serious social issues. “It offers a non judgemental environment to talk about what is a family issue. Children can hear their widowed mothers talking about this critical life experience. It’s about these women as individuals, not as an ‘older person’ or their ‘mother’ – but someone with aspirations and dreams for the future.”
“It appears that some children, thinking of the future and trying to be responsible, forget that their mother has lived a very adult life for many years and does not need to be treated as someone who is more childlike in her negotiation of the world than her grown children.”
“The play is humorous and lively. It is about these women struggling to find their identity; of the shift to being a single woman; about what the label of ‘widow’ means to them. We also talk about sex – and that’s something most people don’t acknowledge as a part of older women’s’ lives – but I can assure you it is.”
“I hope that the play will make people think and challenge their stereotypes about widows and previous ways of thinking.”
This new collaboration is a natural extension for Alan Hopgood who has already written plays on issues such as prostate cancer and diabetes.
He says “the fabulous women” in Susan’s research attracted him to the play.
“People can very successfully relate to stories about difficult issues, especially if they are laced with humour. Comedy is a good learning tool. It makes issues we are uncomfortable with more palatable because it does not feel so scary.”
And Alan has certainly been successful achieving this. He said: “I hate to boast – but when the audience falls on the floor laughing about impotence, as they did in one of my previous plays – well then you know you have connected with them.”
Alan and Susan received funding for their play from the Image of Age Grants Program, from the Office of Senior Victorians, which provides grants to support new Victorian productions that depict positive images of ageing and older people in film, television and theatre and from VicHealth to tour the play especially into rural and regional Victoria.