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      Outrageous Ageing by Judith Sornberger

      Gloria Steinem once said that women tend to become more radical as they age. I don’t know if I’d choose the word “radical,” but the middle-aged women characters in Hamilton-Gibson’s upcoming production of Calendar Girls do become activists, even if their activism only involves raising money for a settee for the cancer hospital’s family waiting room. Of course, creating a calendar picturing themselves semi-nude to raise that cash might seem a bit radical to some.

      To say that Calendar Girls is a play about ageing, though, would be like saying Romeo and Juliet is a play about feuding families. I mean, ageing is one of the themes of Calendar Girls, but it’s also a play about marital love, female friendship, body image, and losing one’s beloved spouse. Did I mention that it is also hilarious?

      As a woman with many close female friends, who cringes when walking into a dressing room to try on a swimsuit, and who lost her husband of thirty years to cancer, I identify—for better or for worse—with all these themes. But I especially value what the play has to say about ageing.

      Besides her irreverent wit, the thing I most value about playing Jessie in CG, is the ways she helps me think about my own ageing. Like me, Jessie has retired from teaching. She is also fifteen years older than her calendar girl cohorts, roughly the same number of years as those between me, at 66, and the other calendar girls in the cast.

      As the play’s women friends discuss who is willing to pose semi-nude in the calendar, Chris—the leader of the pack—says to Jessie, in a matter that can only be construed as condescending, that she understands that a “woman of your. . . .” She doesn’t actually get out the word “age” before Jessie cuts her off. Without hauling out the word “ageism,” Jessie treats the younger women to a brief and profound treatise on the subject of ageing


      “The danger, girls, of age,” she says, “is what you think age expects of you.” I would add: “and what others think age should look and act like.” In her diatribe’s last line, Jessie says, “The saddest thing on God’s earth is those with the fewest hours left allowing less and less to fill more and more.”

      Like Jessie, hitting my late sixties is challenging me defy those expectations. I’d never auditioned for a play till a friend encouraged me to audition for Calendar Girls, and I was scared to death. But ageing has also helped me to overcome my fears. I no longer care quite so much what people think of me, and I’m more willing to look foolish trying something I’m excited about. In addition to appearing in Calendar Girls in May, I’ll also be teaching my first class as a certified Tai Chi instructor. I’ve always loved learning and trying new things, and after retiring from 25 years of teaching at Mansfield University, I now have the time and energy to do more exploring.

      I realize that this is all pretty heavy talk about acting in a play I’ve just said is “hilarious.” So I’ll let my character—and my new model for healthy and outrageous ageing—have the last word. After her lecture, Jessie agrees to pose for the calendar as long as there are “no front bottoms. That’s a sight I’ve reserved for only one man in my life.” Asked, then, whether her husband will mind her posing, she says, “Good God, love, it wasn’t my husband!”

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