Lucy R. Lippard
By the year 2020, one of every five people in the United States will be over sixty-five. This population will be predominantly female, and most of them will be single. Today women account for nearly 75 percent of the aged poor.
Some walked with a spring in their step, others crept by on canes. The audience cheered and wept as the procession of 150 white-clad women filed up cliff steps from a sunny La Jolla beach. Two weeks later, in the South Bronx, as pouring rain drenched the dismantled cars outside, another audience cheered and wept as ten women sang, danced, and flaunted their years on a stage.
Performances do elicit cheers now and then, but rarely tears. These were provoked by the dignity, courage, and high spirits of women ranging in age from sixty to one hundred. The women in white were participants in California performance artist Suzanne Lacy Whisper, the Waves, the Wind, over a year in the making, which came to triumphant fruition on May 19 [ 1984]. The mostly black women in the skit Ready for Love, also a year-long project, were members of the Hodson Senior Center -- the oldest center in the country, and perhaps in the world. It was one of three plays from different Bronx senior centers presented May 21 under the aegis of Elders Share the Arts (ESTA), a New York citywide program directed by Susan Perlstein.
Lacy is respected (if often misunderstood) in the high-art world, as is Perlstein in the field of social theater. Yet all the performers in their works are "amateurs, telling their own stories and feelings in their own words. This is what made both pieces so moving, but it was the "professional" frames that made it possible for the amateurs to convey their stories so effectively. Just as performance art emerged in part as an escape from theatrical and object art conven