Playing the Old Man This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

January 14, 2013
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I stood in the wings on opening night listening, not for my cue, but for the audience. I waited to hear their laughter—to me no sound would be sweeter, no sound better indicating success. I stood in the wings on opening night wearing trousers, a checkered shirt, and a bolo tie. Tubes hooked from the oxygen tank slung across my shoulders hooked over my ears and fed into my nose. My hair was messy and grey, my face wrinkled. The tank lacked oxygen; I can breathe fine on my own. And despite my aged appearance, I was a sixteen-year-old girl, transformed by theatrical magic into ninety-year-old Aubrey Verdeen.

At my small, all-girls school, it is almost a graduation requirement to play the part of a character of the opposite sex. I had been Gerald the janitor in our third grade play, First Ladies, Ladies First, a lost boy in our fourth grade rendition of Peter Pan, ninety-year-old Aubrey Verdeen in The Red Velvet Cake Wars, and Gandalf the Great in The Hobbit. It’s not that I didn’t want a more feminine role. I did. When I realized that Gerald was a boy, I tried to convince my teachers to rename him Geraldine. Upon learning I had not been cast as Wendy, I left the classroom and cried. In middle school I fought for the coveted female roles—a goddess in an original play, Sarah in Guys and Dolls. Halfway through high school, however, my appreciation of the theatre enabled me to understand what it means to play the old man.

Although I relished a part that offered a more appealing costume, I chose to audition for the less-glamorous role of Aubrey Verdeen for a reason. This elderly man said what I would never say. He dressed as I would never dress. I came to understand that acting is not about playing a character that is most like me, but taking on a role and shaping it in a way that nobody else can. So I adopted a southern accent, a convincing elderly voice, and slapped my knees as I cackled at my own comical lines. I allowed myself to be silly by letting go of modern-day conventions and my fear of embarrassment. I dove into the part. I became comfortable with discomfort. The audience laughed at my jokes and enjoyed the person I had created. The curtains closed, and I felt proud.

The Ellis theatre department has taught me that in my life, I will play the old man. I am prepared to take on roles that are far from who I am and where I want to be and I will shape them into something only I can create. I am comfortable with the discomfort of the new and different and am confident that I can play any part I am given. Underneath the matted grey hair and suspenders, I am an independent young woman ready to take on whatever the world has to throw at me.

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booklover13 said...
Jan. 26, 2013 at 4:29 pm
This is beautiful, not only in it's message, but in the message's construction!! Keep it up! "Confidence is not being unafraid, but rather being comfortable in the knowledge that's it's okay to be afraid." (Personal Quote)
elizabethjoy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 23, 2013 at 1:08 am
Thank you very much. I like your personal quote a lot - I might use that sometime. This essay got me into college, so I feel pretty good about it.
JillianNora said...
Jan. 25, 2013 at 8:51 pm
Amazing! I always get cast in parts that aren't always pretty...but those end up being my favorites. I love theater and it has really helped me grow as a person, and I can really see that it's done the same for you. Beautifully written, I couldn't have said it better myself :)
elizabethjoy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 23, 2013 at 1:09 am
Thank you! Sometimes the most challenging, unattractive parts turn out to be the best and most transformative ones. 
megamind95 said...
Jan. 25, 2013 at 4:05 pm
I really liked this story. It was so interesting to learn about how one person learns to play different parts becausing coming out of our comfort zone is often the most difficult thing we have to do, but also one of the most important. 
elizabethjoy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 23, 2013 at 1:10 am
Thanks, you really get it. Getting on stage has been terrifying at times, but overcoming that fear and discomfort is so rewarding in the end.
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