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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Other story forms of aging : performing aging and old age in contemporary, professional Canadian theatre Henderson, Julia


This dissertation is a critical exploration of aging and old age in contemporary Canadian theatre. It investigates plays produced on professional stages in recent years, asking in what ways they challenge, complicate, and/or offer alternatives to deep-rooted, stereotypical decline stories of aging, as well as denaturalize other ageist narrative tropes, through aspects of their dramaturgy and/or production. Building on the emerging, but still limited, scholarly work at the intersection of theatre studies and humanities age studies, this dissertation contributes four case studies. Each has its own chapter and centres on one or two key plays. The plays address themes of aging and old age, and each contains one or more characters who have aged past midlife. All plays thematically address areas of concern within the field of age studies, such as age performativity, embodiment, age identities, temporalities of aging, aging female sexuality, age-related memory loss, intergenerational relations, and autobiography. Utilizing mixed research methods that vary across chapters, this study employs dramaturgical close reading, detailed performance analysis, reviews of critical press, analysis of archival video, and interviews with the artistic team of one production. Taken together, the case studies illustrate a range of theatrical mechanisms, both dramaturgical and performative, that function to represent age, aging and old age. At times these mechanisms re-entrench ageist belief systems, however, the unifying focus of the chapters, and primary contribution of this dissertation, is that they reveal age-conscious dramaturgies that resist the narrative of decline and other ageist stereotypes. The study’s most important original insights include: a theoretical expansion of Anne Davis Basting’s performative depth model of aging; expansion of Jill Dolan’s theory of utopian performativity as applied to autobiographical performances of aging subjects; and an approach to analysing how characters’ interactions with dramatic space, stage properties, and structures of time influence narratives of generational continuity or rupture and consequently narratives of aging and old age. In summary, the plays studied offer positive interventions that work to shift Canadian social imaginaries away from repressive understandings of aging and old age, and toward more expansive and socially enfranchising meanings.

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