Is youth wasted on the young?

We've been pondering this since Auckland Theatre Company announced its first full year in a new theatre wouldn't be complete without a play by Roger Hall, one of our most successful playwrights.

Hall, in his 70s, has charted the highs and lows of his generation and now increasingly turns his attention to ageing. A few years ago he asked, "Who wants to be 100"? The answer: "Anyone who's 99." This month, his comedy Last Legs makes laughing matters out of sex, death, politics and growing older.

We asked Hall, and performers, about ageing in the arts.


"If you're old and in the arts, then you've probably made it some time ago and that huge desperate effort to get established is behind you. I have a talk called "Fifteen Years to be an Overnight Success" which charts step-by-step from my early writing efforts to the first performance of Glide Time 40 years ago that changed my life.

"On the way it was performing in, and writing for student shows (and learning how to craft a line that works from one that doesn't - usually a hair's breadth difference); writing comedy scripts that I sent to TV here and BBC in the UK; short stories (one acceptance only, ever) and plays for TV.

"And then one got accepted, Clean Up starring Catherine Wilkin who, as it happens, is in Last Legs. I did almost anything to get established: book and film reviews for The Listener; cabaret Friday and Saturday nights; interviewer for TV. Add to that shameless self-promotion (nothing's changed here).

"Most of us oldies have had to do the equivalent of the above in whatever field we have chosen; we have paid our dues. The big advantage for me after all these years is that if a script lands on a theatre director's desk in New Zealand, it will get read. The rest is much the same. Plays still need to get written in the same old way, numerous rewrites over several months. But I still kick myself with disbelief that whenever I arrive back to New Zealand on the entry form under 'occupation' I can put 'playwright'."

stars in Last Legs

"I have always thought that age is in the mind. Now that I am in my eighth decade, I am beginning to think that I must not think of age and try not to have preconceived ideas about how I should live my life. I try to do all I used to do but I have realised I need to rest more than I did. When small accidents happen one has limited time to recover and so I am more careful than in the past."

plays matriarch Kabanicha in NZ Opera's Katya Kabanova

"Much of my professional life has been taken up with training myself to be task-oriented and not perfection oriented. As musicians, training is dominated by the elusive idea of perfection. As I grew older and more experienced, I began to question more and more what perfection was and is it indeed the same to everyone?

"The answer is that it isn't. But having the grit to try again and again to master certain tasks both technical and communicative, and perhaps fail - but fail better each time - is the journey of performance and replaces that futile quest. 'If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well' is an old saying but so true. I work much harder now than when I was younger - and I am no longer interested in the activities, things and people who waste my time. I want to learn, create and take risks."

stars in Last Legs

"Age is something that others endow me with. In my head, I can still do everything I could do before, if I can be bothered. Infirmity can happen at any age, so can complacency and boredom. I've seen people who are old and boring at 25 and others who are young and wicked at 90. Staying curious is the key. Not giving a damn is useful. Loving people is a pleasure; living well - essential. Life is short, so get on with it. I used to think our job was about entertainment, but it is so much more than that. It's about telling the story; being the storytellers of our community. It's showing the audience they're not alone."

choreographer/producer celebrating 40 years of Limbs Dance Company, which she co-founded, at this year's Tempo Dance Festival

"What I've learnt in my 40 years of making work: that sometimes you're hot and sometimes you're not; you can put your wholehearted belief into everything you do but you never know when it's going to strike a chord ... or not; nothing is really new under the sun - just the context you put it in and talent, timing and passionate hard work are very important ingredients".