Photo: Bob Mowry and Katelyn McKelly are among the actors who shared the voices of Sarasotans taking about aging in the 2015 Florida Studio Theatre premiere of “Old Enough to Know Better: Aging Well in Sarasota.

Can Theater Help in the Fight Against Ageism?

Posted on April 03, 2019 by Timothy Fanning, Herald-Tribune Media Group

A presentation on Thursday at the USFSM hopes to show you it does.

Do you want a little taste of top research pouring out of New College of Florida and the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee? How about six snack-sized presentations, each under seven minutes?

If that sounds delicious, then head to USF Sarasota-Manatee’s second annual Research “PechaKucha” on Thursday. PechaKucha refers to a presentation style where speakers present 20 slides for 20 seconds each, with each presentation lasting no more than 6 minutes, 40 seconds.

There you’ll find topics that dip into cultural equity in urban America, the economics of mythology, how Mary Kay built her empire, and how people are using theater to fight ageism.

That last presentation comes from Valerie Lipscomb, who isn’t your average literature teacher.

Lipscomb, an associate professor of English at USFSM, spotlights the intersection of drama, theater, age studies and how they all come together to fight discrimination against people on the basis of age.

Too often when we look at aging, we see it as us versus them, said Lipscomb.

“Ageism is so ingrained and accepted in our society that many people don’t notice or realize that it exists until it happens to them,” said Lipscomb. “That is where the magic of theater comes in.”

From Arthur Miller and Tennesee Williams to Paula Vogel and Doug Wright — drama can pack its biggest punch when all ages are interpreted, both on the page and on stage. It creates something relatable. It creates empathy for something we all face at some point in our lives.

Lipscomb has proof that empathy can affect social change.

In 2015, Florida Studio Theatre explored the many aspects of aging in the premiere of its original show “Old Enough to Know Better: Aging Well in Sarasota.”

That play — Lipscomb was a consultant — was created from interviews of nearly 100 Sarasota area residents conducted by FST staff members and volunteers about their lives.

That unusual collaboration helped to focus on how professors can forge partnerships with professional artists who may often shy away from telling stories about the negative beliefs about aging and the experience of older adults.

Lipscomb said it also helped represent a unique community-based effort to enhance respect and social inclusion for olders, which is a major focus of the age-friendly community movement.

So what lesson does Lipscomb hope people take away from her brief presentation?

“Bringing together researchers and community members from many different perspectives is the best way to combat the ageist attitudes that pervade contemporary culture,” Lipscomb said. “Theater has been shown to be highly effective in changing social attitudes when the exact words of marginalized populations have been performed on stage.”

The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Research PechaKucha will be 11 a.m. to noon Thursday in room A217 at 8350 N. Tamiami Trail. The event is free and open to the general public.

This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.

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