I consider myself very fortunate in the fact that I am often considered to be very mature, thereby leading most people to assume I’m older than I actually am and treating me as such. But, if pressed for specifics, I will reveal just how old I really am. I don’t volunteer the number if unsolicited but I never lie about my age. The only reason I ever hesitate to mention it is because, more often than not, in spite of my conduct, the way I present myself, and any other interaction that indicates my professionalism and maturity, people hear a number and suddenly attribute and place on me all the connotations that are associated with it. It’s can be an unfortunate circumstance to find one’s self in.
Recently, several people who hadn’t previously known, found out how old I was. Though they all shared surprise at the number, their overall reactions varied greatly. One couldn’t have cared less, they let the evidence speak for itself and, until I proved otherwise, I was an equal regardless of age. However, that was not the case with another one of them. Much to my chagrin, they were instantly taken aback and unsettled. Their entire manner of communicating with me altered.
This is a phenomena that can occur to anyone–sometimes all anyone can see is a number. But people are so much more than their age–they are their life experiences. A number isn’t a guarantee; some people have experienced more loss and heartbreak at 17 than others have in 80 years. I have meet children that were more mature and more of an adult longer than most of the adults I know. The work I’ve witnessed this week at the Fringe only goes on to confirm this.
I’ve seen some brilliant pieces of theater in the past seven or so days, truly spectacular stuff. But the brilliant performances I’ve witnessed don’t belong to one nationality, one genre, and they certainly don’t belong to one age demographic. One of the best pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen, let alone one of the best shows currently at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is a South African Theater Company’s adaptation of Mies Julie. I’ve seen about 5 different adaptations of the play Miss Julie by August Strindberg, never before have I seen such a nuanced and innovative interpretation of the text. The two young actors in the principal roles ought to be immensely proud of what they’ve accomplished on that stage. It’s the kind of show that draws you in, that makes the material so terrifyingly relatable, that, when the show is over, you need a few moments to recover yourself, to come to terms with what you’ve just been exposed to onstage and what it’s just revealed you about yourself.
On the other side of the spectrum, I also saw two fabulous one-man shows this past week. One was a terrific production about Churchill’s life. It was one of the loveliest pieces I’ve seen at the Fringe. Churchill so often comes across as this bull dog of a man, respected but not quite loved. But this play chose to highlight his humanity; his difficult relationships with his parents, his love and devotion to his wife, and the burdens that are the price paid by any great leader of men. At one point during the show, Churchill is discussing his failed navy campaign at the Battle of Gallipoli during WWI. He was the leader of the navy and under his watch 45,00 men died. He says “Can you imagine how many brothers and sisters, how many mothers and fathers, how many people lost someone that day? And they all hated me for it.” The most heartbreaking thing is that he doesn’t blame them for that hatred, for that blame rather, he accepts it. But he also accepts the fact that great men must make the decisions the no one one else can or will. And he most bear those decisions and their consequences.
The other brilliant show I saw was Guy Masterson’s one man show The Half. The half is about the 35 minutes before an actor’s comeback in a one man production of Hamlet (in which he plays all the characters). This unnamed actor was once considered the rising star of the stage but lost everything, including his marriage, as he spent twenty years as an alcoholic. But this is his chance, his moment to make up for it all; for the friends and relationships lost, for the opportunities squandered, and for all the self hate he’s had to live with. In his mind’s eye, if this show is successful, it means he did good, that his life mattered. But over the course of the show, his old demons come out to haunt him, particularly those regarding the age at which he is trying to make his come back. In one fabulous and fluid monologue he goes from calling himself a “well seasoned actor” to ridiculing his attempts to play a Hamlet, a mere boy of twenty.
But talent is not limited by age or nationality or training—we are all capable of great art. Age is not a hindrance to talent or intellect or worth. The best and the brightest and the most wonderful human beings in this world do not belong to any specific age group; they are as diverse in their ages as they are in their life experiences.A human being, the measure of a person’s life, is and ought to be more than a number. At the end of the day, it’s not the number of years you’ve lived, it’s how you’ve lived them.
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