Compiled by Jeremy van Meter
The actors currently onstage in our version of Pride’s Crossing are nowhere near turning the age of 100. Many of those same actors do, however, portray characters that are quite close to reaching that milestone. Statistics tell us that as time passes, we human beings are living longer and that our expectations of reaching the century mark should be higher. It’s a question that few of us truly stop to consider, “what if I live to be 100?” I’ve asked Pride’s Crossing cast members Hal Cropp, Ben Gorman, and Adrienne Sweeney to recount their own process of building a character in their 90’s. As a 47-year-old currently playing a man in his mid-90’s, I have also contributed.
Also—be sure to click the link at the bottom of this page for a portrait study of centenarians courtesy of Slate.com and photographer Paul Mobley. You will be pleasantly surprised!
Hal Cropp: One of the most amazing things I’ve discovered in bringing Wheels Wheelock to life is how much he hangs on to the events of his youth. While it doesn’t make me feel wonderful to say it out loud, Wheels has grown into someone who has hung on to the real and/or perceived slights in his relationship with his wife Pinky. He bristles whenever she reminisces about past loves, be they Chandler Coffin or Alfred Nightengale. I can only hope that, should I reach Wheels’ age, I am able to release whatever slights I might still be carrying and truly live in the moment.
Ben Gorman: As I tried to create my version of Pinky Wheelock, I found myself assuming postures and taking on affectations of which I can’t quite be sure the source! Am I “making them up” from whole cloth, or accessing memories of observations made over a lifetime of interacting with my fellow human beings? I do trust my instincts and ideas, so I can only hope they produce a veracity in performance that the audience can observe—once they get past the jarring fact that a man, without benefit of makeup and only suggestions of costume, is playing an old woman, that is! I’ve decided that Pinky has a sunny disposition and that she’s a very positive person. And her physicality—at about 90 years of age—includes a few basic characteristics: a very curved-forward spinal stoop (which is quite uncomfortable to portray for extended periods!), a sort of retracted left arm—bent at the elbow, hand to the chest. Overall, there is a slight delay in her reactions to events—not so much as to delay the pacing the director needed for the scenes Pinky is in, but enough to suggest the slower reactions of advanced age. And with her impish sense of humor (she does a striptease after all!), she’s a joy to play.
Adrienne Sweeney: The most notable part of this process for me has been meeting with women in their 90’s. The thing that I have come away with, the thing that has really hit me, is the need to let senior adults live their own lives and make their own decisions for as long as realistically possible; to not rob a person of their autonomy just because they hit a certain age. Every single person I have met and talked with is so unique—had their own lives and styles of being in the world. That’s the biggest thing I’ll take away from this process…to really embrace each and every person as the individual they are. Also—if I live to be 90 I am quite sure I’ll be as ornery, stubborn, fiercely loyal and loving as Mabel. I sure hope so!
Jeremy van Meter: My only living grandparent, Dorothy Van Meter, turned 94 this year. One of the characters I portray in Pride’s Crossing is Chandler Coffin. At the beginning of the play, his age is defined as a “few years older” than Mabel who is 90. I have chosen that age to be 94. Other than some mental fragility, my Granny Van Meter has no physical ailments. Through the creation of Chandler, I have made the full realization that reaching 100-years-old does not relegate one to one’s bed. My Chandler at 94, is only “slightly” older than the Chandler of 30-years ago—perhaps a bit slower and more stooped over. There is a vibrancy to him that, as I look forward to my own advancing life, I am planning on and hoping to embrace and cultivate.
Pride’s Crossing with its delightful and multi-layered characters is onstage now at the Commonweal through November 13. Please come and share some time with us!