Theatre Against Ageism and The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People

Logo, black and white.The 90 Plus Group. Theatre Against Ageism.

We’re a group of theatre people using our skills to challenge ageist attitudes. Our first play is on stage in Wellington (New Zealand) at the end of 2023, and it’s called The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People. We call ourselves the 90 Plus Group because we’re looking ahead to life after the age of 90. I’m Rachel, the playwright.

Even at 70 or 80, most of us can’t imagine how we will think and feel by the time we pass 90. We have no idea. So five characters in this play are at least 90 and a sixth character is 100. We’re call them the Elders. (It’s easier to say than “nonagenarians.”) The script is built around a dozen interviews with people over 90, conducted early this year. The characters are fictional concoctions based on those very real, very old people, and so the play has a core of authenticity.

Cartoon of five authentic characters in their 90s. Typing, in love, thinking, waving and feeding a quail.
These characters are all in their 90s.

Performance details

  • Circa Theatre, Wellington, New Zealand
  • 25 November–16 December 2023

One way to tackle ageism

Changing ageist attitudes is not easy, because half the people in the world hold moderately or severely ageist attitudes, according a huge multinational study by the United Nations. (Ageism is a global challenge: UN.) And much of our toxic ageism is directed towards ourselves.

Our way is to entertain, not to preach. Yet we expect that The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People will open minds and hearts to the very old people in our midst. We expect to bring hope to those who are tempted to despair about their own or their parents’ future old age. And we expect the play to arouse a new respect for our Elders.

More later. Much more! Because I’m a bit obsessed by the nitty-gritty of the aging process. Also, I’d like to offer you a sneaky look at the process of writing a play. It’s very different from writing a poem or a novel. And I find it exciting! This is not my first play by a long chalk. Times have changed, I’ve changed, theatre has changed. Which makes it a scary new phase of the creative life of this particular writer.

I’m looking forward very much to sharing this process with you. Search the website with “90 plus” or “extremely old” to find blog posts about the progress of this rather amazing and very entertaining play.

A popular play about an unpopular topic: why?

The success of The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People has taken me by surprise. I’ve got my own opinion about why people are flocking to a play about a most unpopular topic: extreme old age. Do you?

Let us now praise donors and sponsors of the arts

Never again will I overlook the logos in a theatre programme. I know just how much passion and tricky work they represent. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all our helpers!

An age-diverse cast reflects temporal vertigo in old people

Why use actors in their 40s, 50s, 70s and 80s for characters in their 90s? Because age-diversity underlines the phenomenon of time vertigo in older people, that’s why. Read about director Robin Payne’s approach to casting five nonagenarians.

90 Plus: the team behind The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People

Meet our core team. Rich in professional experience, unflinching in our desire to challenge the stereotyping of old people.

The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People: the play

This new play is already arousing a lot of interest, months before it goes onstage in November 2023.

A vox pop poll on being extremely old

What would you say if you were asked to imagine yourself at 95? We were very surprised at some of the answers we got.

Strategic outcomes of The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People

When applying for funding to support a theatre work, it’s only reasonable to be asked about the strategic outcomes we are planning for. Here’s a glimpse into our thinking.

Why are the nonagenarians in this play like the mighty tecomanthe speciosa?

Read on! Multiple reasons, especially their longevity and courage in old age.

Specific advice on maintaining brain health

The six Elders in our play all have brains that are working well, despite some struggles with memory. Here are some practical tips for mind and memory from Brainfit.

Older dancers bring depth to a work about grief

Yes: older dancers have as many advantages as disadvantages. Hard to believe? Watch a short video about a work revived after 16 years: Requiem, music by Karl Jenkins, danced by Crows Feet dancers.

Dandelion clock and old age: our logo

Why choose a dandelion clock as a symbol for old age? We have ideas but we want yours too.

Here’s where you chose a title for this play

I asked you for a tagline but you favoured The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People so emphatically that I changed the title. See? Crowd-sourcing in action. Thanks again! To think I nearly called it 90 Plus Now: how boring, how obscure!

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