Feel-good montage as older women learn to be comfortable with age.
Money can be earned, love can be found, but time is the one thing we will never have enough of, with our mortality and ageing bodies becoming increasingly hard to ignore as the years go by. But as Salty Xi Jie Ng’s team of older women collaborators can attest to, life after 50 is far from the end of the world, as Not Grey: Intimacy, Ageing & Being shares a myriad of ways these women have found solace and comfort in the latter part of their lives.
Conceptualised and directed by Salty, Not Grey presents a montage of video vignettes, interactive performance, and writing, each one created by women invited to respond to the question of what intimacy means to them. Intimacy, of course, doesn’t always have to do with physical sexuality, and as American feminist Audre Lorde puts it, it may instead have to do with “a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way”, something each of these collaborators espouse and embody in a different way.
Held on the new OhYay platform, we start out as audience members appear on video, atop various objects in Salty’s grandmother’s bedroom. It’s an interesting way to preface the show, with the virtual space acting as a lobby for Salty to check in on us and chat. While not used for much beyond that, it’s a platform that has the potential to be taken much further in future productions, when used more creatively.
The show itself is straightforward, as it basically acts as a continual stream of short pre-recorded videos of the collaborators, each one sharing about their experience with intimacy in the present day. With how diverse the women are, in terms of age (59 to 82), race, and background, the stories presented are varied, and touch on topics ranging from hiking to healing, hairdressing to gardening.
It quickly becomes clear then, that the art of intimacy changes immensely as we grow older. Besides Dana Lam (the only one frank enough to outright address the struggle of having sex the older one gets), the remainder of the collaborators instead choose to turn inward, drawing their strength and joie de vivre from more earthly, peripheral activities than physical intimacy. Our very first collaborator, Ajuntha Anwari, for instance, showcases her process of conducting a healing ritual, as she prepares a mix of herbs, spices and flowers, while reflecting on soul-searching, mind-expanding and the need to seek truth. Similarly, Elsie Tan explains her desire to get back ‘to the truth of her’ performing a physical theatre piece, stretching out, expressing herself, while reflecting on her need to please others.
Then we have collaborators like Pushpa Melvani, who finds her drive from cooking for others, or her relationship with God; or Saudah Marwan, an ex-Geography teacher who deepens her relationship with Mother Earth through gardening (her video even touches on the absurd, as she has ‘tea’ with her plants, pouring coffee into the soil). Evelyn Fernandez describes her loneliness when her ‘friends’ no longer speak to her and learns to find comfort in solitude, while ex-NMP Faizah Jamal shares her family’s history as jewellers, and how she ends up seeking solace in her hiking trips to the woods, and Li Li Chung reflects on the act of waving goodbye.
Of the pieces, the most intriguing ones would probably include stylist Patricia Lim, who stays young by focusing on keeping up her beauty regimes, dressing up for cosplay events, and in her own words, keeps up with what the youth do, allowing her to keep in touch with them. One could easily read her as out of her depth, but there’s a charming innocence and realness to her enthusiasm that makes us want to protect her and make her feel like she belongs.
Elsewhere, multi-hyphenate collaborator Koh Lian Hiok shows off her artistry, with her skills in dance and several musical instruments. Her segment, filmed on an empty stage, sees her playing a rousing piece on the guzheng, before she performs ballet choreography, while recounting how she came to learn all these skills. It’s a quiet, powerful segment that shows her immense strength and will to live, elegant as she takes command of the stage and basks in the spotlight.
Not Grey isn’t purely about the audience just passively watching these scenes though, and at one point, features an interactive segment, with performer Elsie Tan facilitating. This segment however, much like the initial welcome by Salty, is not given enough time to develop, as audience members respond to prompts and provide their thoughts on intimacy after watching the show, and only one or two short responses can be shared before ending the session.
Not Grey is community theatre for the digital age, a reflective, feel-good piece about our relationship with our own inner selves, and how we must not fear ageing, but embrace new perspectives to face life more boldly. With its range of styles and collaborators, it’s a project that has legs to go further, perhaps exploring an even wider range of collaborators in future, and leaves us confident that going grey is far from the end of intimacy.
Not Grey ran from 22nd to 25th July 2021 online. Read more about it in issue 3 of The Grandma Reporter, a collaborative publication project on senior women’s culture around the earth.
The 2021 Festival of Women, N.O.W. (not ordinary work) runs online from 13th to 31st July 2021. More information and full lineup available here
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