Ed and the Meritocracy of the Arts

It’s one thing to sit at my desk and write about arts and aging, or talk to people and help them envision and implement arts programs. It’s quite another thing to be a participant in the process of art making.

In the many years that I’ve been an arts administrator I’ve tried to keep a connection to the experience of creative expression. When I was younger I performed and sometimes directed in community theatre. I started writing some years ago but outside of the few opportunities to have my plays produced, I missed the social engagement of working with a group of people for a period of time towards the goal of opening night and a run of performances.

As I’ve gotten older there are just fewer opportunities (and fewer theatres in my general vicinity) where there are plays I’d like to do and roles for which I’m appropriate. So I was thrilled that the Artistic Director of the Red Monkey Theatre Group asked me to play Leonato in a local touring production of Much Ado About Nothing. I’d worked with Red Monkey in the past and rarely miss attending their productions. However, I had not performed in a while, and though I was excited at the prospect I was also nervous. Working full time and being in a play is always a delicate balancing act. Could I still juggle these demands? Could I still memorize lines? I keep hearing from older actors that they’re only doing staged readings because they don’t think they can learn lines anymore. This fills me with dread. Luckily I had the script well before rehearsals began and I dedicated myself to the goal of having most if not all of my lines memorized by the first rehearsal (I made it to 90%).

I was uncharacteristically late for the first read through (I misread the schedule) and was so mortified that I didn’t take notice of something that was clear to me at the next rehearsal: I was, by far, the oldest person in the cast.

The cast of “Much Ado About Nothing”

I told you all that so I could tell you this…

It wasn’t until we were two weeks into rehearsal that I realized that no one made any distinction with regard to my age. No jokes. No, “Ed you don’t have to do that”. No “do you need more time?”.  As far as the crew and the rest of the cast was concerned, I was just another actor. Given the work that we do at Lifetime Arts I’ve become sensitive to ageism, trying come to grips with it, where I see it, including my own. But I encountered none of that here. We all had jobs to do and just as importantly a responsibility to each other.

Success in the theatre means that everyone takes seriously their own responsibilities and their responsibility to each other. The expectation is that you’ve been given this job (role) because you can meet the demands of the production, regardless of your age.

I must admit that there were a number of backstage discussions at which I was a (mildly) interested spectator. I managed to receive an education about the latest generation of film superheroes and pro wrestling stars. There were, gratefully, enough shared interests, that allowed the group to bond and work well together. We started rehearsing in early December, and the tour began in early January and ended April 12th. Part of me is glad to have my weekends back, but I’ll miss working together with a committed and mutually supportive group and what we created together.

Ed Friedman

Ed Friedman

Ed is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Lifetime Arts. He has spent over 30 years in parallel careers serving the arts community, and older adults and their families.

Artwork by Lisa Curran
Ed Friedman

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