She says older performers are often afforded only diminished screen roles. “In Australia we have the most amazing seniors,” she says.“They’re firefighters, they’re running farms, they’re out there doing physical work.”
A self-described “old greenie hippie”, Andrew wonders if older people are dismissed because they’re held responsible for the state of the planet. “I get really frustrated when the young of today blame it on the baby boomers,” she says.
This year, as the COVID-19 epoch forces the annual festival to an online-only presence, guests from cabaret, jazz, folk, comedy, puppetry and circus have all had to film themselves on their phones.
Three performances and interviews will come out on YouTube each week until October. Organisers hope a steady stream of ongoing offerings will help senior people overcome the drabness of isolation.
“I’m fine, because I’m used to working on my own, but I know for a lot of people the isolation is a real problem, especially if they can’t get to their families,” says Andrew. “This is a distraction, but a distraction with a group of peers.”
Showbusiness survivor Andrew spent the social distancing months writing and keeping fit at home.
“I find it so frustrating as I get older and realise those of us who are older still think we’re 18, but society looks at us with our slightly sagging skin or our baggy eyes and uses the word ‘geriatric’.
“It’s wonderful that we can still get together [online] and just party out and enjoy ourselves.”
Other festival guests include Yorta Yorta opera singer and composer Deborah Cheetham, discussing what hope and pride mean to her and performing a piece from Puccini’s Tosca, and comedian Mark Trevorrow, performing as himself but also discussing his alter ego talk show host Bob Downe.
Co-host Tristan Meecham says the arts and culture can bring people together in hearts and minds, and the reimagined festival is a special gesture for people who may not be able to be out and about in the world.
Meecham’s hosting colleague, Bec Reid, says the festival “celebrates older artists at a time where everyone’s sense of isolation and disconnection is so profound, with older people being potentially more invisible than ever”.
It is a message to older Australians: “We see you, we love you, we’re going to do this thing together”.
Steve Dow is an arts writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.