Old Age in the Spotlight: Towards an Anti-ageist Theatre in the Times of the ‘New Normal’

The disempowerment of older people and their stereotypification as extremely vulnerable or, even worse, expendable human beings, are probably among the most disturbing features of the global crisis experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially in the Western world, characterised by highly individualistic, production-oriented and youth-obsessed societies, the need to re-construct intergenerational bonds and, in particular, the urgency to re-value old age as a rich stage of the life cycle, can be regarded as important consequences of the lessons learnt during the pandemic. As a collective artistic form with social impact, the theatre constitutes an inspiring cultural domain whereby these lessons can be addressed and even put into practice. Through a variety of genres and performance styles, plays and shows that revolve around the theme of ageing have the potential to both represent old age as a complex source of identity and to signify interdependence among different generations as a sign of progress and social justice.

Contemporary theatre (more significantly, the theatre written or produced around or in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic) has clearly started to give old age a prominent space both in dramaturgical and production-related terms, hence paving the way for a more inclusive dramaturgy in the times of ‘the new normal’. The increasing number of plays on ageing, which has been evident in the last theatre seasons in Catalonia as well as in the international scene, has noticeably given more visibility to old age on the stage from a variety of discursive and theatrical angles. However, neither the presence of older actors in a show or the inclusion of the theme of old age in a play necessarily entail the promotion of alternative narratives of ageing whereby ageist stereotypes can be undermined. As amply proved by the interdisciplinary field of ageing studies, our societies still need to generate (or, in the best cases, strengthen) an age-based form of literacy and activism, in the same way that we have learnt to detect and counteract other forms of inequality or injustice based on other signs of identity.

Drawing from ageing studies as the main conceptual framework whereby an age-centred perspective can be developed from the humanities, and specifically building on theoretical and artistic developments derived from the combination of theatre and age studies, this lecture offers an age-critical overview of some of the recent shows and plays that signal the ‘anti-ageist turn’ of contemporary theatre, both in the Catalan scene and at an international level. By observing their dramatic features and styles of performance, these theatrical texts will be categorised according to the conceptualizations of old age and narratives of ageing they favour. Likewise, the ambivalences detected in some of their approaches will be analysed in an attempt to contribute to an age-critical discourse for (and through) the arts. Resorting to insights gained through the practice of playwriting and theatre-making, the presentation will also reflect on the challenges and possibilities of growth involved in the exploration of old age as dramaturgical material and as source of theatrical creativity, especially if we are to imagine a theatre for all ages that can help transform ‘the new normal’ into a truly anti-ageist era.

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Posted by IAFOR