The Volkhonka Mansion in Bolshoy Znamensky Pereulok in Moscow hosted a public discussion called “Age as an Art”. Yury Solomin, People’s Artiste of the RSFSR and the USSR, Vsevolod Shilovsky, People’s Artiste of the RSFSR, and Meritorious Artiste Russia, Inessa Molodtsova, a soloist at the Bolshoi Theatre, shared their personal experiences and thoughts on the third age. The meeting was moderated by Fyokla Tolstaya, a journalist and a TV and radio presenter.
Age as an Art discussions are a special project of the 5th Society for All Ages National Conference, which is sponsored by the Charitable Foundation of Elena and Gennady Timchenko and organized with involvement from the Artiste Foundation for the Support of Arts Figures.
The discussion covered not only the personal experience of age, but also the importance of the generational bridge and the professional role of mature people.
Yury Solomin told a story that caused laughter and empathy in the audience. He described the role played in his life the then-yet-to-be teacher Vera Nikolayevna Pashennaya and her humanistic attitude to “our baby”, as she called the future artistic director of the Maly Theatre.
“When I came to enrol after round two, there being three in all, my Dad, who accompanied me, had all his papers and money stolen. We were left penniless. Father told me to go to Pashennaya and explain the situation. If she wants you, let her take you. If not, we go back to Chita. And I took my dad’s advice for the first time and went to see her. ‘How can I help you, dearie?’ asked Vera Nikolayevna. She was larger than life, both as a teacher and as a person. I told her everything and repeated what Dad had said: you want me, take me. Vera Nikolayevna looked at me and said: ‘All right, stay’. And I stayed.”
The well-known performers emphasized that their establishment in the profession was to a great extent facilitated by their mentors – by their prestige, skills, attitude to the young. “The behaviour of Ulanova, Plisetskaya, Milashkina, urged us on, encouraged us to strive, burn the candle at both ends,” said Inessa Molodtsova. “Our seniors were kind to us. They were our patrons, mentors,” added Yury Solomin.
But what should be the basis for respect for mature people? Is authority solid enough if based on age per se? In answer to this question, Vsevolod Shilovsky said: “I don’t think we lacked in respect, love for our gurus. But whether that respect is earned depends on the older generation. I have always believed that actions speak louder than words. If a person leads the good life, is good at what he does, then he will be treated accordingly.”
When discussing their attitude to elderly people in their youth, the guests also shared their personal experiences of being now on the other side – that of mature people – and their views of the younger generation.
“You can’t speak ill of young people within my earshot,” said Vsevolod Shilovsky sharply. “If the young are bad, then it’s the fault of older people and the government.” To illustrate his idea of the responsibility of older people for the life of the future generations, he went on to say: “They say that the young generation is underdeveloped intellectually. However, if you as a teacher don’t have superior professional skills, knowledge, they are entitled to pay you no mind.”
Is it possible not only to remain sought-after professionally in the third age, but also to give your profession as much as you used to when you were younger? Vsevolod Shilovsky said in jest that even seven days a week isn’t enough for him to do what he planned. “I am 79, but I feel compelled to give 12 hours a day to teaching. If I have free time, I quietly go mad.” According to Inessa Molodtsova, she is “still 30, though in my eighties. But I feel the same as before, as if I would now put on my shoes and rush off to a show or a performance night”.
In responding to the question as to what advantages maturity brings, the actors concurred in the opinion that a major one is experience, personal and professional, whatever the field. What mature people have is not only knowledge, which today needs to be updated on a continuous basis. The enormous value that only mature people can give the profession is their best practices of using these knowledge and skills in practice, their ability to build relationships, dedicate themselves to the profession. “When leaving the stage, you need to leave a piece of your heart there. This is what my teachers told me, and now it is I who tell it to my students when putting together my new class. Soul and heart are cachet for any profession,” said Yury Solomin.
In carrying on the discussion, Fyokla Tolstaya noted that Russian theatre, strong in its traditions, has succeeded in preserving respect for the authority of older people, a bridge between generations. “This genuine sentiment, reverence for teachers are based not only on the maxim: ‘respect your elders’. They are based on the awareness of what that person has achieved, which you develop when you yourself start making your first steps in the profession and see what a challenge it is.”
So what do we do to preserve and augment the value and potential given to society and the government by a bridge between generations and decent treatment of elderly people?
“We simply need to take care of such people – as we take care of our fathers and mothers,” answered Yury Solomin. Vsevolod Shilovsky and Inessa Molodtsova emphasized the mutual responsibility of all parties and the special role of the government.
“Respect for seniors is the responsibility of the older generation. But if we now fail to take good care of the young on a national scale as we ought to, we will lose our gene pool, and Russia will be no more. What is more terrible is that the young could see how the government mistreats the elderly, people who ‘have pulled over onto the hard shoulder’,” said Vsevolod Shilovsky. “My job as a teacher is to tell my pupils: if you see grey hair, be so kind as to show respect. The rest will take care of itself.”
The Age as an Art discussions are a sequel to the Discussions of Old Age, initiated by the Charitable Foundation of Elena and Gennady Timchenko as part of its Elderly programme.
“Amazingly, today’s conversation was not about elderly people but about a generational bridge, about the art of living to the full at any age, which is in sync with the idea of the Society for All Ages conference. It turned out to be a discussion of the future rather than past,” said Maria Morozova, general director of the Charitable Foundation of Elena and Gennady Timchenko. “It is nice that the event was attended by quite a few young people.”
“We are very much in sync with the topic of culture of ageing and the attitude to age as an art. The cultural and artistic figures of the older generation are a pillar of society and their profession, a professional and moral compass for the younger generation,” said Olga Katalina, general director of the Artiste Foundation for the Support of Arts Figures. “They are consiglieri rather than rivals. The artistes of the older generation are teachers, mentors, those who are sharing their skills and wisdom with young talents until their last breath. This is probably what the real art of ageing is all about: to be a role model for the generations that come after and to share with them the experience and knowledge one has gained.”
The Age as an Art project was part of the 5th Society for All Ages National Conference. Official partners of the Age as an Art project: AO Raiffeisenbank and Gett. The project coordinator: the PR agency PRP Group.
Members of the media can also find out more from PRP Group, a Weber Shandwick Affiliate Company, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at +7 (495) 937 3170, contact person Anna Terekhova, as well as from the Timchenko Foundation at email@example.com or by telephone at +7 (905) 577 5548, contact person Yekaterina Kashtykina.