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D&D: Old Actors - How Can We Play Our Part?

Why We Don't Kill Old Men Any More

Lloyd Davis - 20 March 2017

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This was widely misperceived as “Why Don't We Kill… etc?” I am not in favour of killing anyone off! This was about the theme of a genre of folk tales that I came across recently. There are many variations but they boil down to this:

"There was a time when by tradition and law the old men of the village, having become useless in the fields once past the age of fifty or so, were ritually pushed from a sacred cliff (or taken up to the mountains and left to survive either starvation or becoming food for wild animals). One family, not wanting to lose their beloved grandfather in this way, hid him in their cellar when he started to show signs of tiredness and weakness. Now it happened that soon after this, the region was hit by famine, no crops would grow from the previous years seeds. The people became more and more desperate. One of the hidden man's grandchildren came to him and asked what they should do. He suggests a variety of ways that new seed might be found - in some stories it is re-threshing the thatch from roofs, in others the family is told to plough up the road next to the coaching inn, or dig up an anthill where copious seeds will be found. In all cases the crops start to grow again and the village is saved. The king then gets to hear of this and demands to know how disaster was averted. The frightened grandchild confesses that their grandfather is still alive and so the king changes the law to allow all old men to grow old and share their wisdom.

I thought it might provide a frame for an interesting conversation and could see the parallel with older actors who complained of effectively being killed off professionally because there were parts of the work that they couldn't do as well.

We had some discussion about whether it being about ”old men“ was a problem and that led us into a ”what about the old ladies“ conversation. I pointed out that these were very old tales from traditional cultures where the role of older women was well defined (in terms of ongoing care, grandmothering, midwifery etc.) whereas men's main use was physical as a labourer, hunter or warrior.

Looking at the overall message, which is that despite your declining physical usefulness, old age brings other benefits in terms of wisdom and experience. There was a little resistance when the group thought this meant they should only teach - ”those who can't do, teach" but we moved towards a position where people were feeling empowered by the idea that there were other ways they could contribute to work in different ways than they had been used to. There was also a growing feeling (felt in other groups during the day too) that older actors can make their own work through collaboration rather than waiting for a call or permission from someone else.

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