Ageism: The Last Accepted Form of Bigotry in Theatre
Anthony J. Piccione
I think – or at the very least, would hope – that all of us here who read or write for this blog agree that bigotry is terrible. Whether we’re talking about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., I think we can all agree that these forms of hate – in any way, shape or form – have no place in theatre or anywhere else in society, and that we should do what we can to make sure that instances where they rear their ugly head do not happen, which sites such as On Stage continue to do very effectively.
However, whether people realize it or not, there is still one form of bigotry left in theatre that is not only prominent, but seems to be widely accepted:
Bigotry toward someone based on their age.
For all the issues discussed regarding the theatre industry, I feel like this is something that doesn’t get discussed as frequently, even as ageism if far more likely to occur. It is something that can hold back up-and-coming artists – both young and old, alike – from achieving their goals, and ultimately serves no purpose other than to deepen any generational divides that may already exist.
Early on in my writing career, I’ve gotten plenty of critiques from older, more experienced writers and theatre artists, many of whom made some valid points which I ultimately learned from, as time passed by. However, I always noticed how many of them managed to bring up how I was quite young, which I still find to be an unfair and illegitimate point to be brought up in any critique of any artist. Granted, many of these earlier critiques were indeed early in my career when I was still very inexperienced, but still – even over the past two years or so – I’m managed to meet some who’ve found ways to look down on me and what I’ve done so far simply because of my age. I know I’m not the only one. I’ve met some who are within my age range who also have felt ageism first hand, and have even been passed over for work opportunities – despite their talents and levels of experience – simply because they think their age disqualifies them.
Yes, being a young playwright can also often mean that they may be less experienced and require more time to hone their talents, and yes, perhaps some of them just aren’t that good. However, the notion that people should be judged based on how young they are is extremely arrogant and condescending, to say the least. Naturally, younger artists are going to need more time to gain experience and get even better, but one does a disservice to this art form by trying to dismiss people based on their age. Besides, I find that sooner or later, the writers who aren’t that good will likely figure that out for themselves, anyway, regardless of what any other playwright does or doesn’t say to them.
Now, I’m sure some of you are reading this thinking how I might be a bit biased. After all, as a 24 year old playwright who just recently got involved in independent theatre during the past year, it might be easy to see why I might especially see this as the issue that it is. I admit that part of my thinking on this is indeed based on my own experiences. Yet it’s worth mentioning that ageism is something that affects not just young people in theatre, but also older people, as well.
Case in point: If you go on Facebook and visit “The Official Playwrights of Facebook” group, you’ll learn that there are many talented playwrights out there who are aged 45 and up. While some are more established than others, you can look and see how ageism – more specifically, the desire some other producers have to discover the next great young writer of the next generation – has held them back from achieving deserved success later in life, precisely because they didn’t all start until they were older. Sure, the reality is that just like some younger writers, perhaps some of them aren’t all that good, and that’s why they haven’t been as successful. Nonetheless, it’d be delusional to think that there the sentiment among some producers that I speak of doesn’t exist.
Now, if you think a play is brilliant or terrible, obviously we all have the right to hold such opinions. However, an artist’s talents or level of deserved respect should not be judged or prejudged based on one’s age. Young artists with talent should never be looked down upon or always told to simply defer to older generations based on their age, and the ones that aren’t that good shouldn’t have to deal with the counterproductive assumption some might have that youth has anything to do with it. On that same token, old age should not be a barrier to a new playwright attaining newfound success, but neither is it a sole excuse for why I should defer to them and any opinions they have that could be wrong.
I don’t expect this to be an issue that fades away anytime soon, and I don’t expect to be the one person who solves it. Still, I hope that regardless of how young or old you are, I hope everyone reading this column will take all of this into consideration, and how it affects all generations of talented artists in this industry.
Anthony J. Piccione is a Brooklyn-based playwright, producer, screenwriter, activist, essayist, poet and occasional actor. Most recently, Piccione’s one-act plays “The End of the Line at the End” and “The Personality Play” have been produced at Manhattan Repertory Theatre, while his one-act play “Two Cousins and a Pizza” was produced at the Hudson Guild Theatre as part of the NYWinterfest. Next up, his new children’s play “An Energy Tale” can be seen this summer at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. Piccione’s work has also been presented at Connecticut venues such as Playhouse on Park, Hole in the Wall Theater, the Windsor Art Center and Windham Theatre Guild, and his short comedy “Ebol-A-Rama” is scheduled to be published this year by Heuer Publishing (www.hitplays.com). He has also previously worked as a teaching assistant at Hartford Children’s Theatre and New Britain Youth Theater, in addition to his work with On Stage. He received his BA in Theatre from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2016, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. To learn more about Mr. Piccione’s recent and upcoming productions, please visit www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com and be sure to follow him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and Instagram (anthonyjpiccione).