The hardest experience I’ve had since coming to college, about 10 years older than the average MFA candidate I study with, is dealing with the things they say about people over 30. “If I don’t know what I want to do with my life by then… If I’m not married by then… If I don’t have kids by 28… [I’d feel like a failure].” I once, as Key Production Designer on a set, had to take a break to go cry in a bathroom after hearing one of those chats at the DIT station. Granted, I was premensing a tad…
But imagine what it’s like when you’re 80, and all the things about old people have already come true, for you?
I’m making a thesis film (that’s the final short … -ish, in this case, 25 minute) film we make at Chapman. All my key roles are for people over 75 – or at least who can play that age.
I freaked out. My grandmas both passed before I met them properly, although my Mom’s mom, Barbara, was a fierce old lady who would match any game I played with hers. My Dad’s mom I barely met – I know of her mostly through the strange, sentimental stories of my Dad’s Dad. I remember the day she died and my mom taking my brother and I into our room so he could cry. I feel like they’d both have lasted a lot longer if women had careers in their day. My grandpas were around in another town, thousands of miles away, so I didn’t spend much time, although they were both a force in my growth as a writer.
My parents, who are over 65, are still running around like crazy chickens and are my inspiration for my story.
Where would I learn about really old people?
So I started volunteering at the Orange Senior Center – which is a meeting place for seniors (over 65) from Orange – not an old age home, as many assume. I found that old people DUH vary as much as anybody else. Take Wella, who strictly taught me how to serve salad in the kitchen. Anna, who could dance me off my feet.
Today my Assistant Director (if she doesn’t get a real job in time) gave me the best advice ever:
“Don’t treat them like old people. Just make sure they can walk when you audition them.”
This is especially true of actors. One is going hiking in italy for two weeks soon. The other is writing a script. The other is about to star in a play where they have to be on their feet, with an hour of lines memorized… nevermind a few names. They’re all passionate, all working, till the day they day. One amazing actress said “I hope I die on stage, or on set!” And I was like… “Just not on mine!” And we laughed.
I guess that old liberal truism – stereotypes are bullshit – is always true.