In this youth-driven culture in which women are told that we need to look younger to be visible, I'm challenging the myth that age defines a person
We should be celebrating age and the wisdom that comes with it, writes Carol Moore (62) who is bringing her one-woman show to the Open House Festival this month. Here, the Bangor woman reveals why she was driven to write the play and what her own experiences have been
It's a bit of a surprise when you arrive at 60 and suddenly are told you are old. Not told formally - a letter doesn't come in the post, but you know you have reached a watershed in your life because society has marked this moment as the beginning of a person's decline.
It is accepted as fact, as the norm and possibly because, when pensions as we know them came in around 1948, it was the age when women retired.
I felt I needed to challenge the myth that chronological age defines a person and so began a two-year journey writing my one-woman play The Experience of Being.
Naturally we don't think about age when we are young. We are all exploring who we are in the world and are selfish of being out there enjoying and relishing the thrill of each experience.
Well the experience of four years of teacher training, only to come out in 1979 unable to get a full-time teaching post, was a pivotal moment in my life and my career. I decided to go with my heart and began working freelance as an actor.
So why am I telling you this? What's it got to do with ageing? Well I quickly discovered that theatre work opportunities in the north relied almost entirely on getting work in Belfast's two main producing theatres - the Lyric and the Arts Theatre.
There was a plethora of young female talent around in the early Eighties, but we were all competing for the same few roles in any season.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
With no established independent theatre sector, how was one to make a living? And given the conflict saw numerous Troubles-related theatre and television dramas, it was our male counterparts who were never out of work. Not so for female actors.
In response, Charabanc Theatre Company burst onto the scene, an all-female company of young women like myself and including Eleanor Methven, Marie Jones, Brenda Winter-Palmer and Maureen Macauley.
Frustrated at the lack of quality roles for young women, we set up our own company and wrote many plays, historical and contemporary and unapologetically all with strong, nuanced female protagonists at its heart.
Roll on 40 years and I reach 60 in September 2016. I had already been playing older characters in wigs from my 40s and that continued for the next 20 years - Death of a Salesman and The Glass Menagerie being two examples of great roles in the American canon and Pentecost by the wonderful northern playwright Stewart Parker.
Suddenly in my sixties, and now with the life experience to give those roles the gravitas they deserve, I am aware I am not seeing my age-group reflected enough on the Irish stage.
Now, at the other end of my career, I feel a dearth of contemporary female roles that are multifaceted, intelligent, vibrant, sexy and funny.
Of course there are exceptions, but they stand out when they should be commonplace.
There is also the double whammy of a youth-driven culture, supported by sections of the media and the hugely profitable cosmetics industry that tell women like me we need to look younger to be visible, to continue to be relevant.
If that wasn't the case, why do so many women lie about their age when men so easily segway into this third stage of life without comment or discrimination?
I am not saying ageism doesn't affect men, of course it does and happens when 'any person' is defined not by their personality, individuality or beliefs but solely by their age.
What I feel strongly about, though, is that there is also an element of sexism around the ageing of women that is particularly discriminatory and based solely on gender.
The Experience of Being is a response to all of that. I realised that I had never really considered the ageing process until I arrived at what we like to term a "significant birthday", because somehow it is supposed to signal fragility at this stage of our lives.
It is blatantly not true. There is no stereotype of an older person, any more than there is of people in their 20s or 30s.
It's unthinkable to assume people of age are the same.
Yet ageism has crept into our psyche and into our vocabulary and we (and I include myself here) have normalised it, when we should all be challenging it.
I used to go to a male hairdresser who addressed me and every older woman in the salon as "young lady".
Was I supposed to be flattered when I'm clearly not young and most definitely not a lady?
Why are we not celebrating our age and the wisdom and experience that comes with it and why are we not comfortable about having a conversation about ageing, about the challenges we face, but also about the opportunities and freedom it offers?
The Experience of Being project was made possible because I was a recipient of a Major Individual Artist Award given by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland through the National Lottery.
As well as writing the play I worked with U3A members in Holywood in a creative programme on ageing which I enjoyed enormously and interviewed a number of people aged between 60-plus and 95 to see how different their experiences of the ageing process were.
As I suspected they were all very unique; their health, mobility, independence and access to social activities all very different.
However where experiences did converge was that they all had a sense of the future, of something to look forward to and a contentment that comes with 'being' in the moment of each new day.
Anyone can access an edited version of the audio installation Stories of Age by going to the web link at bit.ly/storiesofage where they will enjoy 35 minutes about the challenges of ageing which I hope they find as uplifting and moving as I did.
When the page comes up, wait for it to upload itself and it should begin automatically.
The journey that I've had makes me want to shout out from the rooftop that the older person you sit beside on the bus or stand behind in the post office, or who might be a family member, may very well have had a life full of experiences and adventures that you could only dream of, but how often do we think of asking them to share their memories with us?
I consciously decided to embrace my 60s, to learn a new skill or embark on a new adventure every year and to actively be aware of own experience of 'being' because none of us know how long we've got left.
I try hard not to put things on the long finger and instead go out for that coffee, lunch or dinner with the many people who bring joy into my life and enrich it.
The Experience of Being is a empowering play about ageism, dwindling power and how to challenge it.
The central character, Cathy, walks into a bathroom and can't remember what she came in for. Then the whisper starts.
It has always been with her and why she has forgotten why she is there and for the rest of the play she is trying to remember what happened the day before on her 60th birthday.
It's about that feeling of invisibility so many women feel. "They saw a warm cardigan and sensible shoes sort of a woman. An insignificant woman."
But let's face it, we are all ageing and I hope the play resonates for women and men of all ages and illustrates the funny side of this inevitable process.
The production will have its final performance of this run at the Space Theatre in Bangor on Thursday, August 22, as part of the Open House Festival and we will return next spring with more tour dates.
For further information and tickets (costing £15) to The Experience of Being by Carol Moore, at 8pm at Space Theatre, Castle Park Road, Bangor, visit www.openhouse festival.com or tel: 028 9147 1780