Performing Story on the Contemporary Stage

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We make a life by what we give. Namesakes of the Axelrod Performing Arts Center. The Axelrod Performing Arts Center is a c3 organization. The Axelrod PAC wishes to thank all our patrons and donors who support our organization annually. There are many ways that you can support the Axelrod PAC. Corporate Sponsorship Opportunities. Masterclasses with Broadway professionals, fully staged youth productions, and a brand-new resident ballet company. The Axelrod PAC relies on community patrons, donors, businesses and others to make live music and theater happen.

Youth Performing Arts. The concept of performativity has particular significance in performance studies, as actors both enact age upon the stage and negotiate behavioural norms associated with their own chronological ages. But it also offers an illuminating conceptual approach to understanding the actions and behaviours of individuals and groups across the life span. The concept of age performativity also helps to understand how narratives of aging and old age are formed in some of the plays that I study.

Finally, the fourth perspective on theorizing age recognizes the materiality of age. These four theoretical approaches to age, then, constitute the multi-faceted age studies lens through which I approach theatre in this dissertation. In each chapter I analyse one or two plays. These otherwise geographically, stylistically and temporally distinct plays are united in the sense that each has had a professional Canadian production in English with relevance to my core research question about aging and old age. Analysis of these plays and productions also allows me to illuminate strategies of resistance to stereotypes and negative narrative tropes of aging and old age.

My methodological approach to each of these dramatic works has varied somewhat across the chapters. In Chapters 3, 5 and 6, I have engaged in close reading dramaturgical analysis. Chapters 4 and 6 both rest on 21 detailed performance analysis. In order to conduct these interviews, I followed the protocols for ethical research involving human subjects. I provide further details about this approach in Chapter 6, but I note here that the letter of information and consent including sample interview questions is included in Appendix A p. This is largely due to reductions in infectious diseases and mortality at younger ages especially related to childbirth and childhood in low- to middle-income countries; and to declining mortality among older people in high-income countries World Health Organization 3.

In Canada, for the first time in census history, the census found that the number of people over the age of sixty-five was greater than the number of people under the age of fifteen, and made up Chappell et al. As senior populations have grown, there is clear evidence that this demographic is looking for theatre that builds from and speaks to its interests and experiences while also promoting a more positive status in society. For example, the rise in number of Senior Theatre ST companies in the last twenty years has been remarkable. In the U. There are now international ST festivals Kole 27; Schweitzer par.

Act II Studio in Toronto Ryerson University is also a popular training centre for both professional and less experienced senior actors and 23 provides performance opportunities. It also has received scholarly attention and been the subject of at least two academic studies. Results have yet to be published. Others forge links with educational institutions performing at elementary schools, high schools and universities , or healthcare organizations performing in healthcare settings and at conferences.

While many seek to unsettle dominant ageist paradigms, their primary purpose is often recreational, therapeutic or educational. It is rare that ST plays reach mainstream, commercial audiences on a wide scale. This suggests that Canadian seniors may be turning to other forms of theatre and performance to find stories that resonate with their experiences, interests, and identities.

Professional theatre that seeks to resist typical decline-focused stories about aging is well-positioned to fill this need and would be well advised to do so given the shifting demographics and tastes of its audiences. It also reaches a more expansive age-range in its public audience than ST typically does, making it possible to influence age expectations in audience members from across the life course. Professional theatre marketing also typically has greater capacity to distribute messages far beyond the audiences who attend the plays themselves.

Prominent theatres often receive international press. In Vancouver, advertisements for plays frequently appear in no-cost print and online newspapers, at bus-stop shelters, on public bulletin 25 boards, and on traffic-light poles at crosswalks. This and other examples suggest that professional theatre marketed to a broad public audience has significant potential over time to shift social imaginaries of aging and old age.

Indeed, while theatre often reflects the attitudes of power and authority, it also has a long history of opposing current conditions and prompting social change. Because theatre brings into shared space performing and attending bodies, it is a particularly rich place to explore topics of embodiment. Theatre communicates its narratives on many levels. Besides using text, stories are also told through visual images and style, auditory sound scape, the body of the actor, the use of the stage space, and performing objects etc. Throughout the chapters of my dissertation I explore the multiple, overlapping, and sometimes dissonant time structures of plays.

Theatre can foreground the subtle messages about aging and old age that often remain hidden in our daily culture. Theatre also offers countless imaginative possibilities to change traditional narratives. Moreover, as an experience that turns on a complex relationship with liveness, it often evokes an 27 immediate response in shared times and spaces with audiences—responses that can be harder to ignore than other forms of media which one can experience alone or choose to start and stop.

Age studies is spread across disciplines and is still in the process of developing into a unified field. The relevance of age as a category of difference, however, has been reasserted by researchers across disciplines. Leni Marshall, literary and age studies scholar, stresses the need for disciplines to develop their specific approaches to age: Each field needs to find ways to establish age as a category of analysis despite the instability of the category.

Age, an often-invisible type of difference in which each of us lives, needs to become more than just an addition to a list of identity categories Woodward Telephone [sic]. A significant factor in personal and national identity, age needs to be more visible because of its centrality to theoretical positions, pedagogy, and research about what it means to be human. Lipscomb describes the limited research that exists to date: A few critics have shown interest in the study of age involving theatre, but that interest tends to divide into two camps: focusing on performances by the elderly, overlooking both the range of age performativity and textual analysis, or commenting on the 28 representation of the elderly in a dramatic text, overlooking issues of performativity and the analysis of age over the life course Performing Age in M.

However, the need for further research at the intersection of critical age studies and theatre studies is clear, especially in relation to Canadian theatre and performance where to date very few studies have been published. The plays included in this dissertation provide opportunities to explore contemporary, public artistic interventions by professional Canadian theatre into longstanding traditions of representing aging and old age.

Although created by different artists, and disparate in form, style, and production venue, the different case studies are united by the fact that all have been produced professionally in Canada. They also all address themes related to aging and old age, and all contain characters who have aged past midlife. The chapters are also unified by the fact that each thematically addresses several important areas of concern within the field of age studies, such as age performativity, embodiment, age-related memory loss, aging female sexuality, and relationality.

These case studies are also connected by their conscious focus on ways that theatre resists simplistic, stereotypical, non-critical representations of the decline narrative and other age-based stereotypes and negative narrative tropes. Taken together, these case studies illustrate a range of theatrical mechanisms that function to represent age, aging, and 29 old age. These mechanisms, which are both dramaturgical and performative, at times continue to entrench ageist belief systems.

However, the consolidating focus of these chapters is that they reveal age-conscious dramaturgies that resist ageism in their representations of aging and old age. In Chapter 2, I provide a more detailed survey of the scholarly literature that informs this study. I open with an exploration of the ways that old age has been defined and understood in contemporary times and I include a discussion of the concept of age performativity.

I then offer a summary of perceptions of aging and old age over time in order to locate common contemporary narratives of aging and old age. This allows me to then consider representations and stereotypes of aging and old age in Western theatre over time, highlighting the prominent role of the decline narrative for the last several centuries.

Next, a discussion of the ways that aging and old age have been studied in drama, theatre and performance helps to situate my doctoral research and differentiate it from previous work. Finally, the chapter closes by highlighting the writings that have been most useful in tackling my primary dissertation research question. I offer my first case study in Chapter 3. Both have elderly female protagonists and explicitly address themes of aging and old age. I offer these as early examples of professionally-produced Canadian plays that push against ageist narratives.

In addition to having had professional productions in Canada, both plays have been anthologized in collections and have been taught and performed over many years at post-secondary institutions. As such they hold a certain sway over Canadian social imaginaries of aging and old age. In this chapter I offer close readings of the two plays, enhanced by analysis of the critical press surrounding prominent early productions.

This chapter illustrates ways that dramatic structure, characterization, and age performativity can be mobilized to convey and reimagine age narratives. I selected this play because it is a play categorically about aging and old age. To cite Matthew D. King Lear has been produced frequently on Canadian professional stages. I argue that this can occur when age is interpreted through a chronological lens. My concern in this analysis is with embodied performances of age.

In this way, the performance foregrounded more positive textual narratives about aging rather than reinforcing a narrative of decline. The case study I present in Chapter 5 concerns two prominent award-winning play scripts, August: Osage County by Tracy Letts first produced in , and Miles by Amy Herzog first produced in Both of these plays originated in the United States and had significant runs in New York before going on to be produced throughout North America and Europe, including at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver, the largest professional theatre in my city and region.

They are examples of plays that have had wide cultural reach and, although not originating in Canada, represent prominent, influential plays that impact Canadian audiences. While in Chapter 3 I concentrate on performances of age that depict an accumulation of moments across the individual life course, in this chapter I am interested in how age is constructed and performed through interactions across family generations. My analysis is based on close readings of the two play scripts, both of which are set in the same year and both of which feature aging female matriarchs who have lost their husbands and who are now negotiating their living space with younger family members in response to tragedy.

I argue that in August: Osage County, Letts uses space, props, and time to highlight generational rupture and cast the oldest generation as responsible for family discord. His depiction of intergenerational relations, therefore, reifies longstanding ageist stereotypes, often in hidden ways. Examining the dramaturgical techniques Letts employs makes it possible to highlight the contrasting strategies Herzog uses to reinforce generational continuity in Miles.

I demonstrate how Herzog employs dramatic space, stage properties, and time structures to create a narrative of intergenerational reciprocity and hope, one that reimagines stereotypes of old age and values the older generation for its knowledge, experience, and actions.

In Chapter 6 I offer my final case study.

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I argue that this performance is an example of the type of new, age-conscious performance that is being developed by some current Canadian professional theatre companies. Here, I move from my consideration in Chapter 5 of how age is constructed across family or vertical generations, to thinking about how horizontal generations might contribute to generating and shifting cultural age expectations.

The show featured six long-term professional musicians all over the age of sixty, none of whom were previously actors. They told stories about the role of music in their lives over time and performed as a rock band in a venue which had supported their early careers. One of the performers also was living with the experience of significant age-related memory loss. In this investigation, I employ a combination of performance analysis of live performance and archival video, interviews with the artistic team, and appraisal of the media surrounding the production.

Together, these theorists help me to consider how the production engendered moments of deep intersubjectivity between performers and audience. Ultimately, I argue that in Sonic Elder the autobiographical nature of the performance, the specificity of the venue, the inclusion of personally revealing content, and the development of specific dramaturgical strategies dramaturgies of assistance allowed for performances of age that offered moving and hopeful glimpses of how it could feel to embrace more positive, expanded, and non-deterministic age expectations.

My concluding chapter reflects on and connects the themes of the previous case studies. I relate my findings in terms of concepts of time and age, age performativity, gendered representations of age, embodiment, generational continuity, the role of objects and space in representations of age, and the relevance of feeling to theatrical experience.

I outline how this dissertation engages with critical approaches in theatre and performance studies and with cultural age theory to illuminate age narratives in contemporary Anglo Canadian professional theatrical productions with themes about aging and old age. I suggest ways that Canadian professional theatre contributes to cultural understandings of aging and old age, and I highlight how it constructively reimagines age narratives.

Bringing these theoretical approaches into conversation allows for the expansion of theatre and performance studies theories to include considerations of age. It also proffers new approaches to age studies and cultural gerontology that consider theatrical and performative ways of representing and understanding age, aging, and old age. As age studies expands, its proponents are also working to define the field. Stephen Katz, Canadian sociologist and critical age studies theorist, summarizes its key approaches: [.

From the social sciences, age studies elucidates the new cultural processes redefining later life and old age based on late-capitalist and globalized retirement lifestyles, cosmetic and body technologies, consumer marketing, and age-based hierarchies. Pursuing these questions, age studies scholars emphasize the cultural aspects of aging, and work both to deconstruct dominant narratives and express marginalized voices. Theatre and performance studies, therefore, offer valuable tools and connections.

Theatre projects tend to focus on the engagement and well-being of their older participants, she argues, rather than theorizing age onstage and in dramatic texts. While developing more slowly than other disciplinary work within age studies, theatre and performance studies have made some significant contributions in recent years. In , the University of Toronto hosted the first North American conference on aging and performance, Playing Age, and attracted a wide, interdisciplinary range of scholars.

In this chapter, I turn to these authors and other forerunners in the field for definitions of such core terms as aging and old age. I then survey historical views of aging and old age in order to give context to current cultural constructions. Next, I provide an overview of some of the ways that aging and old age have been mobilized in theatre over time, especially through the use of stock characters. These historical framings demonstrate that aging and old age has been understood in different ways in different times and places, but that the decline narrative has persisted over time and has frequently been represented in Western plays.

This overview of older aged theatrical characters serves as a backdrop for understanding current representations. Building from this overview, I next describe research approaches that have been used to study 36 age and theatre in order to locate my own work within the field, and to clarify how my work is distinct. Finally, I review the writings that have most closely guided my own approach. These represent critical analyses of age both on stage and in dramatic texts from an age studies perspective. Although these works are few in number, they provide a solid basis from which my work expands. However, as literary and age studies scholar Leni Marshall argues in Age Becomes Us: Bodies and Gender in Time , we need language to communicate, even as we problematize and deconstruct that language.

Although terms such as old, aging, senior, and elder are imperfect, we lack robust alternatives Marshall Understanding terms and their problematic nature is key. As I demonstrate in the brief survey that follows, several distinguishing principles emerge across the definitions and rely on discourses from disciplines such as gerontology, biology, sociology, psychology, gender studies, literary studies, and performance studies.

Understanding the many ways that age has been, and is still, understood, helps to position my own approach. Aging is the simpler term to define. Defining age is more complex. How do we describe what human age is? What is old age and how do we recognize, categorize and define it? How old is old? Here I look to contemporary conceptions of age, recognizing that ideas and definitions of age have changed over time and continue to evolve.

Woodward further distinguishes between the two by explaining that a person suffering from a severe disease in middle age would be understood to be functionally older than their chronological age would normally suggest Here, although she does not list it among her definitions, Woodward suggests the idea of functional age, a concept proposed by sociologists Toni M. Calasanti and Kathleen F.

Depending as they do on a sense of chronology, Woodward notes that social and chronological ages are strongly associated. Woodward goes on to distinguish between two remaining categories of age. Basting highlights the enduring legacy of the traditional life-stage model. However, some Early Modern texts emphasize specific years of profound change which they call climacterics Ellis 5. The more modern life-stage or life-cycle model, popular since the industrial revolution, is based on social and chronological age definitions and ties social roles to specific chronological 39 ages The Stages of Age In this model, the life course is divided into fixed stages typically described as infancy, education, work, and retirement.

Definitions of old age which correspond with retirement most often consider old age to begin at sixty-five years. Gradually this age was adopted as the norm of retirement and became entrenched in our social institutions. To address this issue, some theorists have proposed breaking down the life course into further categories. Neugarten categorizes the elderly population into the young-old sixty-five to seventy-four , the middle-old aged seventy-four to eighty-four , the old-old aged eighty-five to eighty-nine and the frail-old aged ninety and over However, Twigg highlights that the distinction between the two ages is qualitative, not chronological.

The point of transition is marked by the onset of serious infirmity. While age studies scholars universally critique the homogenization of all people over the age of sixty-five, the field has not widely adopted the above noted models that still divide the later life course into stages. While these distinctions attempt to de-homogenize seniors, they are criticized for being essentializing since they forcibly group people into categories according to their chronological age, when considerable variation still exists based on, for example, race, culture, gender, ability, social and financial status, health history, and personal experience.

Some theorists have tried to avoid chronological divisions by reconceptualizing and redefining the aging process. Other theorists propose formulations of the life course which organize life stages around specific qualities and tasks that might occur at any age but are typical of certain general age groups Basting The Stages of Age For example, in the s and s developmental psychologist Erik Erikson created a new model for the life course based on functional definitions of age.

In this model, the life course is divided into eight stages, each of which holds a unique challenge and reward for the individual. These critics and others look to the conscious performance of age in acting roles, not only as a way of understanding how specific performances shape cultural notions of age, but also as a means of understanding age itself as fundamentally performative. For Butler, gender identity does not constitute something essential but is created through the act of its repeated performance.

Since gender identity is thus understood as created through behavioral scripts that can never be repeated exactly, it offers the possibility that those scripts can be undermined and changed. So, while age characteristics conventionally may be thought to manifest in innate ways at particular life stages, from an age performativity perspective, such age identities are produced through repeated performances that interact with a culturally sanctioned age script, and therefore are not essential but only appear to be so.

Age studies critiques of performativity turn on the notion that a view of age as purely performative dismisses the very real effects of time on the body. In Figuring Age, Woodward passionately contends: [. There is a point at which the social and cultural construction of aging must confront the physical dimensions, if not the very real limits of the body.

Butler addresses this in Bodies That Matter, arguing that in the case of performativity the subject does not precede the gesture but rather is produced by it By contrast, in the case of performance, 44 the performer precedes the act of impersonation according to Butler. Drawing on the work of many theorists,xvii she makes a case for the relevance of performativity theory to theatre studies. This creates a performative age identity on stage that can give insight into how we understand age performativity more broadly.

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As age studies researchers continue to seek useful definitions of key concepts, Gravagne addresses the mercurial nature of these terms: The reality of a concept as intangible as age may be that it is inherently ambiguous, that it is all these things [the many definitions of age] and none of them at once. Whether or not we manage to accurately capture its essence or describe its behavior, the ways in which we define age and the meanings we attribute to it have very real physical, psychological, and material effects on our lives.

For example, when I investigate old-age stereotypes, I consider a broad range of the lifespan from midlife onward, in order to capture the sweeping and homogenous application of prejudicial ideas about old age in theatre and otherwise. In Chapters 3, 5, and 6, I am attentive to how age is constructed differently according to gender and ability.

Considering age as performative is key to my work in Chapters 3, 4, and 6. The role of place in defining age is relevant to my analyses in Chapters 5 and 6, as is the materiality of age and embodiment. Finally, 46 the relationship of time to definitions of age is crucial to my work in all of the chapters that follow.

For my purposes, I have been most interested in the current narratives of aging and old age in contemporary Canadian culture and how they have developed over time. I recognize that more than just Western histories influence contemporary productions with themes of aging and old age, and their reception in Canada. In my broader research program, I hope ultimately to engage beyond this scope, but the current field builds on Western-based work.

While a full history of conceptions and experiences of aging is neither possible nor desirable here, it is helpful to highlight a few of the striking shifts in Western culture that demonstrate changing attitudes toward old age over time. Both Basting The Stages of Age and Heather Addison provide useful historical overviews as context for their performance analyses, highlighting similar historical transitions, with Addison adding insights into the role of consumer culture and the advertising industry. I draw on these helpful summaries as well as the more comprehensive research of historians Thomas R.

Troyansky Aging in World History. For example, while it is commonly argued that life expectancy in historical societies was around the ages of thirty-five to forty, Thane clarifies that these statistics are skewed by the high rates of infant and child mortality prior to the 20th century. She asserts that a person who lived past the age of twenty had a good chance of living into their fifties or sixties, especially if female 3. Samuel proffers that from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries in America, old age was comparatively rare and, perhaps because of this, people who lived a long life were esteemed, and advanced old age was seen as divinely ordained 7.

On the contrary, Thane argues that old age in most historical societies was, in fact, not as rare as we tend to think.

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In terms of attitudes toward old age, Cole notes that prior to the mid-sixteenth century numerical age had virtually no social significance, and few people knew how old they were 5. Addison specifies that prior to the 19th century the Western Puritan-influenced model of age was one that acknowledged potential infirmity in the elderly, as well as seeing old age as having 48 redemptive spiritual potential.

Pre-industrial America was based on economies of agriculture and artisanship, and thus, Addison argues, age did not play a strong role in stratification. Generations were not divided or isolated but lived and worked together supporting strong interdependence and mutual respect Addison Thane, however, suggests that the idea that in the past families were the mainstay for older people is faulty. One of the most significant shifts with respect to the meaning and value of old age in Western societies, writes Basting, occurred in the late s as a result of the industrial revolution and the development of a burgeoning middle class The Stages of Age Workers were now favoured for their speed, strength, and endurance rather than their experience, which 49 created a more negative view of aging Addison Cole argues that beginning in the eighteenth century an increasingly rationalized, urban, industrial society gave rise to the emergence of the individual lifetime as a structural feature of modern society 3.

Samuel, taking a different tack, argues that economic class replaced age as the primary differentiating factor among Americans 7. The increasing national values of democracy and independence undermined the authority of age, as did the fact that nineteenth-century heroes were primarily young men Samuel Also, in the later part of the nineteenth century, in the United States and Canada , age limits for hiring and forced retirements served to stratify the life cycle into stages Basting The Stages of Age 11; Samuel 8.

Around the same time, the introduction of age graded school for children had a similar effect. Both served to decrease interdependence and thus the value given to aging and old age Basting The Stages of Age However, Thane provides critique of this view of retirement: To interpret the spread of retirement as degrading the lives of older people by depriving them of the status associated with paid work is to romanticize often bitter hardship in the past.

Far from being a source of status and respect, the paid work to which many people for many centuries clung for survival as they aged [. The middle class lost the ability to perceive of aging as both decline and life fulfillment, and as a result aging became increasingly associated with a stigmatized understanding of disability and loss Basting The Stages of Age Around the turn of the century, improvements in sanitation and hygiene meant that infant and child mortality declined Basting The Stages of Age Before this time, people who lived beyond childhood and especially into old age were considered necessarily healthy.

However, once longer life spans were expected, societal views of aging focused more on its negative aspects and began to view aging as a scientific and technical problem, rather than a mystery or existential concern Addison As medical specialties such as gerontology and geriatrics developed, they secured the pathologization of old age as something to avoid or delay Addison 12; Samuel The mission of these professions was to study the physical and psychological symptoms of aging and to develop treatments for aging-related ailments Troyansky This laid the foundation for science and medicine to seek ways to interrupt or reverse the aging process.

At this time the idea of age-related wisdom lost considerable worth. A similar phenomenon occurred in Canada where the first public pension plan was introduced in The s and s saw the emergence of an anti-ageism movement in North America. This targeted negative stereotypes about the elderly that had resulted from decades of viewing age as a problem and disease. However, while the movement inspired older people to advocate for their own rights and well-being, its strategy of replacing negative images with positive ones ultimately sabotaged more significant change.

Both images served to instill fear and resentment of aging by equating the aging demographic to a wide scale disaster. Thane certainly asserts that the 20th century marks a period during which the range of experience in later life or old age is the greatest of all historical periods 8. Today negative views of aging persist in cultural narratives, primarily the narrative of decline. According to Chappell et al. Negative narratives of old age infiltrate our belief systems such that the status of people in contemporary Western culture increases from youth to middle age but declines thereafter Chappell et al.

Gullette concurs. She denounces the devastating influence of the decline narrative and its primacy in contemporary [North] American culture. However, Gullette is also optimistic that changing our narratives about aging and old age, including those promoted by contemporary theatre, can positively influence cultural attitudes towards aging, and the treatment of older people. To this end, I summarize key ways that Western theatre has contributed to constructing and perpetuating stereotypes of aging and old age especially negative ones over time.

This is critical as my 53 analyses in subsequent chapters engage with these stereotypes, chiefly to explore how the chosen plays reinforce, resist, or reinvent them. Mangan argues that ageism is often articulated through stereotypes, and that theatre has drawn frequently on stereotypes and stock figures 23 : [.

The formative period

Age-related character types and patterns of behavior recur time and time again in the Western dramatic canon, and many of these are consistent with the narrative of decline. To date, Mangan has offered the most detailed mapping of these recurring types and representational patterns in Western theatre.

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Focusing on the senex, or stock figure of the old man, he traces its origins in Greek New Comedy and Roman Comedy, where he argues it had two main variations. The senex iratus or angry old man usually appeared as a domineering father, controlling his children and obstructing their erotic desires. Interested in money and status, he often pursued a match for his child that would benefit him in these contexts Mangan This character type was often portrayed as lecherous or devious and was ridiculed about impotence.

He also was often motivated by money Mangan Both 54 variations were represented as exaggerated two-dimensional characters who were the butt of jokes, most often about their decline. They formed stereotypes that became the root of many portrayals of old age for centuries. Mangan describes development of the senex over time, mostly through comedic forms, with the two types of senex sometimes fused into one character Mangan He notes variations of the senex in the Corpus Christi cycle plays of the Middle Ages in which Joseph was written as much older than Mary and sometimes as foolish Harpagon 55 also takes on the role of a senex amans in that he is in love with a much younger woman Wood These ideas regarding comic portrayals of aging and old age and the stereotypes implicated in them are important to my analyses of comedies in Chapters 3 and 5.

The senex persisted in the 16th-Century English Renaissance, reflects Mangan, most notably through the plays of Shakespeare. He is not only long- 56 winded but also frequently shown losing the thread of the conversation. There is thus the implication of [. Anthony Ellis also points to the senex in Shakespearean tragedy, arguing that the character King Lear represents both senex iratus and senex amans.

An understanding of these stereotypes is helpful to my analysis of King Lear in Chapter 4. This character-type likely also extends from certain portrayals of aging women dating back to Attic Old Comedy, in which, according to Jeffrey Henderson, examples can be found where the sexually-interested older woman was ridiculed and exploited 57 for comic purposes, especially the woman who tried to look younger However, in Attic Old Comedy these were minor characters, and the genre as a whole often portrayed older women in positive ways.

The female senex figure was a post-menopausal woman, who on the one hand fulfilled parental qualities, but on the other was foolishly in love with a younger man. Although she maintained some social status through her wealth, she was the centre of cruel, sexist and ageist jokes, especially in her attempts to appear and act youthful In both male and female variations, the Restoration aging lover was fair game for ridicule. Such sexist age portrayals became an enduring feature of Western entertainment.

Incarnations of the senex over time have been influenced by the political and social specificity of the culture, and according to Ellis, at certain times this has led to more nuanced pictures of senescence than at others 4. Ellis argues, then, that the senex is not a simple, static convention. However, Mangan counters that the character type is still usually rooted in decline and is most often the object of ageist ridicule.

He explains, The figure of the senex [. This is why the senex is so typically a character who has some degree of social power and authority, but whose grip on that authority is increasingly fragile. Mean, obstructive, inappropriately lustful — these are all traits which make the classic senex a target of comedy and alienate him or her from the sympathies of the audience.

In the history and the genealogy of the senex we see theatrical performances which repeatedly reaffirm negative stereotypes of old age in order to mock them. Whether stereotypically rigid, grumpy, stingy, or overly critical older characters, or ones that are portrayed as foolish and inappropriately lustful, both male and female versions of the senex still appear in contemporary works. We can recognize the senex iratus in television characters such as Mr. The elderly Queenie is rash, rude, angry, and constantly demanding and insulting towards her adult daughter.

A Puppet Parody was staged Off-Broadway using puppets and showed the continued popularity of its characters including Blanche Simoes. The principal legacy of the senex amans is the message that old people interested in sex are ridiculous, grotesque, and worthy of ridicule for women, especially, this message is often applied to anyone past midlife. A lasting message tied to the senex iratus is that aging parents are irritable, angry, selfish, and obstructive. This theme of rupture across generations and its relationship to the angry, obstructive, jealous, blocking parent undergirds my analysis of August: Osage County and Miles in Chapter 5.

Although the theatrical treatment of senex characters is traditionally ageist, in some instances senex characters have been consciously used by playwrights to disrupt age expectations. Mangan contends that the senex has a flipside as a subversive trickster character similar to the trickster in folklore He suggests that anarchic examples of old-person-as-trickster were staples of the music halls and live variety shows of late 19th- and early 20th- Century British popular entertainment and can be traced through to contemporary British sitcom and cinema.

Tricksters can be old or young, but one of their defining features is that they lack social power or authority: therefore, elderly tricksters hold an important function in societies, cultures and situations in which the old lack agency Mangan The trickster is a boundary crosser traversing between right and wrong, sacred and profane, clean and dirty, male and female, young and old, living and dead Hyde 7; Mangan Features of this character are unconventionality, originality, and wisdom Myerhoff It is also relevant to my Chapter 5 analysis of Vera in Miles.

Both of these characters cross boundaries, subvert age expectations in surprising ways, and rely on humour. The final old-age stereotype relevant to my analysis is that of idealized pastoral figures. Mangan describes variations of this type as common in the Middle Ages when Christian elements were integral to the drama of the period We can recognize this figure in fairy tales such as the grandmother in Little Red Riding Hood e. Rowling, and John Tiffany. An understanding of this stereotype is useful as background to my analysis in Chapter 6 where I analyse portraits of inspiring aging that avoid or resist this stereotype.

Nonetheless, there has been a variety of approaches to the study of aging and old age in theatre which I will now outline to situate my own research within the broader field. Senior theatre, intergenerational theatre, and various forms of research-based theatre have all focused on topics related to aging and old age. These fields of artistry and research include many interesting and thoughtful representations and analyses of issues and experiences related to aging beyond midlife.

Working intergenerationally, seniors have more creative energy and greater opportunities for expression. The stories they tell and the theatre they create are entertaining, but also challenge stereotypes, strengthen memory, develop skills associated with performance, and articulate issues of aging. Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council However, as I outlined in Chapter 1, these types of companies and research projects encompass topics, audiences, and methodological approaches that are different from mine.

Research related to these forms of theatre mainly focuses on analyzing their processes for play development, evaluating the well-being of their participants, or determining the effectiveness of knowledge transfer to their audiences. As these are not my goals in this study, I will not review these areas of research in further depth here. There are broad surveys of narratives of old age in Western history and literature that sometimes draw on dramatic works, along with other literary texts, to reflect historical attitudes toward aging and old age.

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All of these texts chronicle notions about old age across historical periods, 64 drawing on a variety of classical and contemporary texts, which sometimes include plays. However, none offers an in-depth study of drama. They tend to focus on plays in terms of their literary themes about aging, but do not think about plays in performance, nor do they offer performance analyses.

Of the works analysed in this compendium, it draws on seventy-four dramatic texts dating from the 7th-Century BCE to 19th-Century CE. The compendium categorizes the attitudes of their authors toward aging and the elderlyxx and the attributes of aging characters described in each text. Finally, the compendium provides a brief plot summary for each work. This compilation does not offer in-depth close readings of any of its literary texts, however it does provide a cross section of Western dramatic literature over time up to CE.

It shows that aging and old age have been the subjects of many dramas over time. It also confirms the claims of authors such as Ellis, Mangan, and Thane that aging and old age have been viewed in a variety of ways at differing times and places, but that negative attitudes have persisted throughout history, and, as Mangan asserts, have been demonstrated often in theatre.

Studies of this sort offer alternatives to the decline narrative. However, many such investigations of canonical Western plays focus more on analysing negative portrayals of old age than on searching out or discussing alternatives to decline. There is also a body of work which considers how artists of various genres novelists, poets, painters etc.

Davis and Lance St. Most such studies focus on white male playwrights, primarily consider plays as literary texts rather than thinking about them in performance, and do not engage with aging beyond the biographical details of the author and their stylistic shifts. The concept of late style is also contested. Whether one agrees with or opposes the validity of the concept of late style, this area of research represents a different approach to the study of aging and old-age narratives from that which I pursue in this dissertation.

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My concern is with the messages about age that plays convey to the public; I am less concerned with what they reflect about their author. Finally, there is a small but important body of work that falls at the intersection of theatre studies and cultural age studies and employs theoretical approaches from both fields. This type of research is concerned with critically analysing plays both as dramatic texts and in performances.

Such research has been most relevant to me in shaping my thinking and guiding my theoretical and methodological approaches. Close readings of plays also focus on the role of dramaturgy in creating age narratives, and performance analyses also consider issues such as age performativity and other aspects of embodiment, as well as audience reception. For my primary purpose of actively seeking alternatives to the decline narrative in 67 contemporary Western theatre, four books in this vein have been most pertinent to my research, each of which applies a critical age studies perspective to analyses of theatre or other performance.

Looking at the four alongside each other in more detail will help me to clarify how my own project builds from them and also moves in different directions. Her seminal research explores eight different performances that trouble traditional Western constructs of aging. These performances include five amateur and three professional productions encompassing senior theatre, experimental theatre, and commercial theatre. Basting also describes the organizational structures of many of the producing companies and provides brief production histories for some of the plays.

  • Organic Photochromes.
  • The Image and Appearance of the Human Body;
  • Performing Story on the Contemporary Stage.
  • A bride most begrudging;
  • Contemporary Stage Design: Immersive Performance Technologies.
  • Lionheart?

Through her analyses, which overlap theatrical performance with theoretical performativity, Basting draws on theory from gender studies, performance studies, psychology, sociology and social gerontology. Her insightful readings propose ways that the eight performances interrupt, transform, and highlight stereotypes of aging and old age. Inspired by Basting, I specifically look for alternatives to the narrative of decline in the theatrical performances that I study.

In addition, and as distinct from Basting, I consider the contemporary Canadian context and include Canadian and British plays where she focused on those that are American. I also focus only on professional theatre which was the minority of the work Basting considered. The section on theatre consists of four essays.

Audience reception is central to my analyses in Chapters 4 and 6. And I? This eventually led to my focus on interactions with dramatic space, stage properties and structures of time in Chapter 5. As these and other essays in the collection explore performativity, embodiment, default bodies, casting, and masquerade, they have pressed my research forward.

They differ from my work in that none of them considers narratives of aging and old age in the works of contemporary playwrights, which I do in Chapters 3, 5 and 6. My work also considers the Canadian context which this collection does not include. Through exploring selected texts and performances, both historical and contemporary, Mangan considers how plays and performances have shaped understandings of aging at various points in time. His historical examples are mostly drawn from canonical texts, while his current-day examples derive from contemporary British theatre, television, radio drama, dance performances and rock concerts.

Here his thoughtful analyses add to my consideration of the relationship between memory and identity. These ideas are most directly related to my Chapters 3 and 6, both of which expressly discuss aging and representations of memory loss. Like Mangan I am interested in the material, social and ideological conditions surrounding representations of age in theatre.

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As his title suggests, Mangan is most attentive to the narrative of decline and how it is expressed and resisted in various plays across time—a project very similar to my own. By contrast, my study encompasses a much more specific and limited time period, and focuses on detailed, in-depth close readings of six plays. Lipscomb includes plays that have contributed significantly to American culture as indicated by critical and commercial success on the American stage, although not all works included are American dramas.

The book considers mostly Modern canonical scripts produced on the professional stage; however, her last chapter also includes three original amateur senior theatre productions. Lipscomb analyzes the dramatic text with an eye for both literary themes and performative elements, and also considers plays in production through analysing performances she has attended as well as reviews of prevalent productions.

I emulate this approach in so far as I also approach dramatic texts from the point of view of both literary 72 elements and performance characteristics. Moreover, like Lipscomb, I incorporate both close readings of plays and performance analyses into my broader study. Lipscomb proposes several ways that memory plays reinforce or question the idea of a stable, enduring, ageless self; these are chiefly through dramatic structure, theatrical devices, and age-related casting.

While the plays she investigates reflect varying attitudes toward age, as a whole, Lipscomb argues that both the memory plays and the Senior Theatre performances she interrogates reveal the longing for an ageless, essential self, a stable self that is recognizable and represents a unified identity regardless of the passage of time Butterfly: Unquestioned Performance.

Lipscomb is expressly interested in both the literary themes and performative elements of the dramatic script, as well as the play in performance, which is also my approach. Her interest in age performativity and the effects of age-related casting inform my analyses in Chapters 3, 4 and 6. Like Lipscomb, in Chapter 3, I 73 analyse reviews of prominent productions in addition to the plays themselves.

While firmly guided by Lipscomb, my work differs from hers not only by considering the Canadian context, but also by focusing specifically on narratives related to aging and old age, not on ages across the entire life course. My particular interest, then, is in studying how contemporary professional theatre staged in Canada variously reinforces, redresses, and reimagines stereotypes and negative narrative tropes related to aging into and experiencing old age. Beyond these four books, several key journal articles on staging aging have been particularly influential to my research.

It guided my thinking in this respect, especially informing my Chapter 4 analysis which employs her concept of the default body. However, unlike Harpin, I focus on Canadian theatre and also include analyses of theatricalized male aging. In this dissertation, I seek to build on the work that has come before my own and offer new insights into narratives of aging and old age in contemporary 75 professional Canadian theatre. The following chapters contribute analyses of six plays that consider ways in which these theatrical works challenge, complicate, or offer alternatives to the simplistic or stereotypical decline story of aging, as well as denaturalize other stereotypes and narrative tropes concerning aging and old age.

While critics have traced complex feminist impulses in her work,xxiv none have yet focused on how her plays unsettle dominant paradigms of aging and old age—a striking omission considering the transgressiveness of her characterizations of elderly women. While at times this tends toward aporia, I argue that in these plays—which were written well before the recent expansion of the anti-ageism movement—Clark does important work toward contesting the fixed scripts that serve to anchor ageist notions, particularly the ubiquitous decline narrative.

Neither play completely departs from tropes of physical and mental loss accompanying aging. I argue, however, that although Clark is not always successful, in key ways both plays resist fixed, stereotypical framings of old age, highlighting instead the ambiguities and incongruities of old-age identity. At the same time, it presents Moo as free-thinking and shows her transcendence over abuse and stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of age performativity, please refer to Chapter 2, pages Moo has been cast this way in all productions I have uncovered.

Because Moo spans fifty years, the lead actress playing Moo must play outside her own age range. In the first two productions, Moo was cast and successfully played by actresses of quite different ages. In the Toronto Factory Theatre production, Patricia Hamilton was about 79 fifty-one when she played the role. Reviews also recognized her facility with performing age. Ray Conlogue wrote in the Globe and Mail: I saw the play before with a young actress doing the role, and in some ways that worked better [.

Reviews suggest that actresses with a twenty-year age difference have both successfully achieved this effect. Not only does the actor playing Moo have to perform a wide age range, but Clark also suggests that the characters Ditty, Sarah, and Harry be played by one actor per role, so these actors, too, must produce performances of age spanning fifty years Moo Other actors are double cast and also perform various ages. The responses of reviewers demonstrate that audience members were able to recognize performances of age despite the fact that the physical body of the actor did not always match the chronological age of the character.

This supports the idea that potentially controllable aspects of performance nuance in movement, facial expression, vocal tone, etc. Because the same bodies play a variety of ages, age is revealed as a system of beliefs and behaviors mapped onto the bodies of the actors. For a more detailed discussion of the decline narrative, please refer to Chapter 1, pages In recent years, Western theatre has shifted away from a singular focus on decline.