Time is our most valuable and precious asset. What we choose to do with it and how we choose to experience time is unique to every individual on this planet. With each passing second we make decisions that shape our lives in some way, but there is an inescapable element tied to that ticking clock – age. There is so much beauty in getting older, yet many of us find ourselves constantly chasing youth. With age comes responsibility and wrinkles, wisdom and worry, and with each passing day it can feel as though we stray further from the precious moments of days gone by: the days before bills, the days where we believed we had the most freedom, the days we had when youthful ignorance made the world a magical place. But, we need not look far for the beauty in aging. Without it and the passage of time there is no progress, and without progress, we wither in ways that can feel like a form death itself. It is essential to our happiness and well being to find a balance between the reality and beauty of aging, and that is what Artists Scott Dare and Michele Stine explore in their production of “Getting Old Sucks” with Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble.
Since 2001, Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble has presented multidisciplinary theater works with a focus on storytelling. These works include elements of theatre, music, movement, visual arts and literary text. “Getting Old Sucks” combines a variety of these elements along with an age-diverse cast to create a theater experience that we can all relate to. Such a vast variety of disciplines included in the creation of CDE’s repertoire requires artists with equally diverse skill sets, making Scott and Michele the perfect pair to add to their list of creators. Scott currently serves as the Educational Manager at the Actors Gymnasium in Evanston, has curated a physical theater and circus show called Heels Over Head and has earned a black belt in traditional martial arts from ISKA. Michele is an experienced director, performer and puppeteer currently working to hone her circus and movement skills in the Professional Training Program at the Actors Gymnasium. She has appeared in professional theater productions across Chicago with roles that include Seryohza in Anna Karenina at the Lifeline Theatre and Martha Washington in The American Revolution for Theatre Unspeakable.
So how did these two dynamite artists create “Getting Old Sucks”? DancerMusic Dance Editor Kristi Licera caught up with Scott and Michele to learn more about the inspiration and creative process behind the production. Here’s what they told us:
We realized that aging is something everybody does; literally every second of every day we are getting older, and if we’re lucky, some of us get to age in years.
Kristi: One of the many beauties of being involved in the arts is the opportunity to dig deeper into the things we experience daily. Something as simple as watching someone waiting to cross the street can spark an idea for a new work, especially if you give yourself room to explore that action beyond its face value. Can you tell us about how you began to explore the ideas and themes in “Getting Old Sucks,” and give us insight into the research you conducted to inform the work?
Michele: The idea started almost two years ago when Scott and I were sitting in a coffee shop, discussing the kind of art we wanted to make – spit-balling ideas for stories or experiences we were drawn to. While we were sitting there, we looked out the window and noticed an elderly woman who seemed to be in her mid-70’s or so, with grocery bags in either hand boarding a public bus. She seemed so resilient and determined; I found it so inspiring to see a single woman of her age, moving and grooving around the city. Then Scott pointed out the young teenage boy behind her in line, and how he walked as if showing off for the world, with his chest puffed up, a swagger in his step and an attitude size that matched the bus he was boarding.
It was as we watched these individuals walk that we started sharing stories of our own loved ones or friends and how they walked through the world. As both physical theater artists and movement-based individuals, many of our social circles are people who also use their bodies in their careers. We started discussing the longevity of our bodies, and what happens when they start to betray us, or worse, the inverse; when our minds start to betray our bodies.
We realized that aging is something everybody does; literally every second of every day we are getting older, and if we’re lucky, some of us get to age in years. And yet, the aging process is such an individual and personal experience; no two people age the same way.
…there are so many wonderful and beautiful experiences when we age, and maybe we should look forward to those instead.
In our first workshop process, we asked our performers to go out into the world and conduct interviews with people. These people could be friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, students, or strangers. But they needed to A) record the interview and B) ask the question, “Can you tell me about a time you felt old?”
We wanted to know what stories we could find about the FEELING of “old.” And what we found, we couldn’t believe. We heard from a six-year old who stated that “I’m old compared to little brother, but I’m not old compared to my parents.” Or a mother who says, “Some days I look into the mirror and go ‘Who’s that?’ and realize it’s me. You never stop being that young 20 something young gal on the inside. It’s universal, universal.” Or a homeless man who befriended a cast member, “Well, this is fun. When I saw grey growing on my face.”
We all have stories, we all have opinions on aging and how it’s affecting us. We look at “OLD” as a negative experience; we see it as this looming destiny, with nowhere to escape. Which, on one hand is true, but the other is there are so many wonderful and beautiful experiences when we age, and maybe we should look forward to those instead.
There’s something beautiful in the strength and coordination of an adult juxtaposed with a child who’s still learning to use their limbs, or an older dancer who’s weathered multiple surgeries and still dances with just as much devotion and joy.
Kristi: One of the standout features of this production is the age range of your 13-member cast: the youngest is 8 years old, the eldest 67 and the rest scattered somewhere in between. Their experience in theater and dance disciplines varies nearly as much as their age does. How did this affect the creative process as you began to translate your research into a work for the stage?
Scott: Building this work has been such a monumental journey for us, and our cast has been integral to its creation from day one. Rehearsal rooms are sacred, and we believe in the idea of community property; what one performer creates or performs becomes the property of everyone to borrow, try out, change and repeat. We typically create everything alongside our dancers, both text and movement, from discussions, prompts, images, or exercises we assign. Created content is then sequenced, stretched, and warped, over and over and over again, in as many iterations as we feel necessary until we achieve something that speaks or feels right.
Working this way means the choreography is not the singular creation of one or two or three people, but an amalgamation of the movements of every single body in the room. The result is something quite stunning – something that feels at home in every dancer’s body, something that stylistically agrees with how we want to move as a group.
The process began over a year ago with a small cast of four. We created a short fifteen-minute piece that served as the pillar for future workshops and expansions. As we added cast members, length, and complexity to the piece (especially when adding dancers over 50 years older than some others) it became more and more difficult to alter and modify the entire choreography so that it would fit each cast member. We noticed that this was actually working in our favor. This piece is about the aging process in all its glory, and we don’t want to shy away from different bodies with different capabilities but highlight those differences for all to see. There’s something beautiful in the strength and coordination of an adult juxtaposed with a child who’s still learning to use their limbs, or an older dancer who’s weathered multiple surgeries and still dances with just as much devotion and joy. Those bodies will naturally move differently, and that’s a wonderful, exciting thing to watch.
…we knew we were signing up for a challenge with such a large cast of diverse abilities, but it has been that diversity that has led to some of the best moments in the show.
We cast performers for a multitude of reasons; physical training background, creative experience, life experience, general demeanor, and more. The breadth of skills in the cast ranges from juggling and contortion, to dance, piano, banjo, Pilates, martial arts and beyond. It enriches the process when we allow those people a say and a space to play.
For example, while developing one scene, in which we wanted to highlight the frustrations and pain when something like arthritis develops, we have an actor playing the piano while the ensemble dances. Since it was an unrehearsed song, there were a few stray notes here and there. We realized it sounded like she herself had some stiffness in her hands. We’re now using this pattern to demonstrate the process of slowly losing the abilities you once had. As the scene progresses, the piano playing becomes more strained, and the dancers’ joints start to backfire and malfunction. We get to see and hear the process of our bodies breaking down in real time. This new tension in the scene would have gone undiscovered if we didn’t have an actor who was willing to improvise the music in rehearsal and an ensemble so willing to play with her.
In short, we knew we were signing up for a challenge with such a large cast of diverse abilities, but it has been that diversity that has led to some of the best moments in the show. We can’t hide our differences, so why not embrace them? Michele and I certainly think it makes for a stronger work.
Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble presents “Getting Old Sucks” at Ebenezer Lutheran Church (1650 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60640) on February 22 – 24 and March 1 – 3. Friday and Saturday evening performances begin at 8pm; Sunday matinee performances begin at 3pm.