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I’ve been living with a secret for the past few years, and will probably live with it for the next five to 8.
I’m in my thirties.
You’re probably wondering, “So what? Why the hell is this a ‘secret’?” Because I’m an actress. An actress in her thirties, that still looks like she’s in her twenties. Again, “Who cares?” Well, everyone it seems.
The more you work, the more the question is asked, and the more you try to dodge that shit like Neo in The Matrix. The “stage age” struggle is real.
At first, I thought not telling your age was the dumbest thing on the planet. Who, aside from your “never ask a lady her age” spouting aunt, actually does that? (Aunty, even though you always refuse to tell us, we know you’re 3 years older than my mom. A first grader could figure out your age. Give it a rest.)
When I was an actress in my 20s, I used to think, “Oh, it’s really not THAT serious, people, come ON.“ I would proudly proclaim my 20-something age to whoever asked, and dared anyone to say anything. I mean, the fact that you’ve made it to a certain point in your life, healthy and strong, is a blessing, right? Not in the performing arts world -- especially for women.
See, when I was recklessly throwing around that twenty-something age, I was still being cast as a teenager. Now, I’m just hoping no one remembers what I said. (Lucky for me, people in performing arts have short memories -- or can’t count very well.)
In the auditions I’m called in on now, I've noticed a trend: Most of these stories are written from a “twenty-something” perspective. Now, as much as my twenties were a time for learning and growth, I definitely didn’t have all these deep, amazing realizations about life that plays and movies would have you think happen by age 25.
I wasn’t making “the right decision” or “choosing someone else’s happiness over my own.” And I definitely wasn’t identifying my own issues and resolving them by the end of Act 2, only to have the guy return and profess that he loves me for who I am!
In real life, my early twenties were a haze of alcohol and junk food. Parties and people I will never see again. Bad boyfriends and even worse hairstyles. These twenty-somethings we see on stage/TV/movie screens? Stylish and mature, with super-large New York City apartments and no job, figuring out major life lessons in 90 minutes.
Seriously, when's the last time you saw a story that involved a woman in her mid-thirties coming into her own? Yeah, me neither. That’s usually when it happens, though. You think you know everything at 26 and then, LIFE.
Society has tried to tell us that if you don’t have your shit together and completely figured out before the big 3-0, you’re a failure, and they reinforce it by not telling the stories of people in the 30-50 year old age bracket. And for women in the performing arts, that's exactly when casting agents start to tell you you’re “at that weird age.” You’re too old to play a twenty-something and too young to be the twenty-something’s mom. Usually, only established artists in this age range are called upon to grace the stage and screen.
This is why I don’t say anything about my age now. I’m just getting into “that weird age,” and will be here for a while since it spans TWENTY YEARS. How many other professions have a 20-year period of dread?
Meanwhile, men can be whatever age they want. You don’t see them running around rearranging the features on their face or squirting botulinum toxins to maintain a youthful look. And they don’t have to worry as much about keeping their age a secret; it’s always been said that men age like “fine wine.” Apparently, women age like the grapes.
Like I said, LIFE usually happens to you after 25. People know this, because they’ve LIVED IT. Even the casting directors know this. Yet, as they sit on the other side of the table, with this ridiculous play written for an “early twenty-something” (who is actually having an early thirty-something experience), they think to themselves: “Wow. This 26-year-old can really act. They're informing this performance with emotions 26-year-olds usually haven’t experienced by now. Phenomenal!”
Um, it’s because I’m not 26 and I’ve been through some shit.
Quite the opposite happens when casting directors actually know your real age. If you’re the 32-year-old in the room, they think you’ve magically forgotten how it felt to be 26 and there’s no way that your 32-year-old ass can portray a 26-year-old. They either think you won’t be able to take direction or, for some reason, you’re just not as good as the 26-year-old.
So, next time you ask an actress their age and they pretend they didn’t hear you, know that they are probably just looking out for their career. They aren’t being ridiculous, they aren’t being a “true lady that never tells her age,” they’re just trying to squeeze as many years out of their youthful appearance as they can.
I like to play the guessing game. If you guess high, I usually say something like, “Wow, I must really need some sleep.” If you guess low, it’s “My moisturizer is WORKING, honey!” But you still won’t get the number. I like that directors think I’m “mature for my age” and have a good work ethic. It helps them remember me for future projects.
Recently, a colleague of mine made a disparaging remark about a fellow actor, saying they were “just an old, bitter, 32-year-old loser” and I almost snapped. Instead, I just smiled and nodded. They didn't know I was out of my twenties, and I've decided to let it stay that way. But they will NOT be getting an invitation to my birthday party, believe that.